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Cornell university Library 
PR 4863.A7 1882 

Charles Lamb. 

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The writings of Charles Lamb abound in biographical 
matter. To them, and to the well-known volumes of the 
late Mr. Justice Talfourd, I am mainly indebted for the 
material of which this memoir is composed. 

I have added a complete list of the chief works from 
which information about L'amb and his sister has been 
obtained. I have also had the -advantage of communica- 
tion with those who were personally acquainted with 
Lamb, and have received from others valuable assistance 
in exploring less known sources of information. 

Among those to whom my acknowledgments for much 
kindness are due, I would mention Mrs. Arthur Tween, a 
daughter of that old and loyal friend of the Lamb family, 
Mr. Bandal Norris ; Mr. James Crossley, of Manchester ; 
Mr. Edward FitzGerald ; Mr. W. Aldis Wright ; and last, 
not least, my friend Mr. J. E. Davis, of the Middle Tem- 
ple, whose kind interest in this little book has been un- 

A. A, 


1. The Essays of Elia, and other writings, in prose 

and verse, of Charles Lamb. 
3. Letters of Charles Lamb, with a Sketch of his Life 

by Thomas Noon Talfourd 1837 

3. Final Memorials of Chai-les Lamb, &c.,by Thomas 

Noon Talfourd 1848 

4. Charles Lamb : A Memoir, by Barry Cornwall . . 1866 

5. Charles and Mary Lamb : Poems, Letters, and Re- 

mains, by W. Carew Hazlitt 1874 

6. Gillman's Life of Coleridge, vol. i 1838 

7. Cottle's Early Recollections of Coleridge . . . 1837 

8. Alsop's Letters, Conversations, and Recollections of 

Coleridge 1836 

9. My Friends and Acquaintance, by P. G. Patmore . 1854 

10. Autobiography of Leigh Hunt 1850 

11. Memoirs of William Hazlitt, by W. Carew Hazlitt . 1867 

12. Literary Reminiscences, by Thomas Hood (in HooWs 

Own) 1839 

13. Haydon's Autobiography and Journals .... 1853 

14. Diary of Henry Crabb Robinson 1869 

15. Memoir of Charles Mathews (the elder), by Mrs. 

Mathews 1838 

16. Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey . . 1849 

17. Obituary Notices, Reminiscences, Essays, &c., in 

various magazines and reviews. 


D7T5-1789.] Paob 

Boyhood. — The Temple and Christ's Hospitai. 1 



Family Struggles and Sorrows 11 


First Experiments in Literature 33 



Dramatic Authorship and Dramatic Criticism 49 


Inner Temple Lane. — Personal Characteristics 13 



Russell Street, Covent Garden. — The Essays of Elia . . 94 



[1823-1826.] Page 





Enmeld and Edmonton 140 

Lamb's Place as a Critic 168 





"I WAS born and passed the first seven years of my life 
in the Temple. Its church, its halls, its gardens, its foun- 
tain, its rirer, I had almost said — for in those young years 
vfhat was this ting of rivers to me but a stream that 
watered our pleasant places ? — these are of my oldest rec- 
ollections." In this manner does Charles Lamb, in an es- 
say that is one of the masterpieces of English prose, open 
for us those passages of autobiography which happily 
abound in his writings. The words do more than fix 
places and dates. They strike the key in which his early 
life was set — and the later life, hardly less. The genius 
of Lamb was surely guided into its special channel by the 
chance that the first fourteen years of his life were passed, 
as has been said, " between cloister and cloister," between 
the mediaeval atmosphere of the quiet Temple and that of 
the busy school of Edward VL 

Charles Lamb was born on the 10th of February, 1775, 
in Crown Ofiice Row in the Temple, the line of buildings 

2 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

facing the garden and the river he has so lovingly com- 
memorated. His father, John Lamb, who had come up 
a country boy from Lincolnshire to seek his fortune in 
the great city, was clerk and servant to Mr. Samuel Salt, 
a Bencher of the Inner Temple. He had married Eliza- 
beth Field, whose mother was for more than fifty years 
house-keeper at the old mansion of the Plumers, Blakes- 
ware in Hertfordshire, the Blakesmoor of the Slssays of 
Elia. The issue of this marriage was a family of seven 
children, only three of whom seem to have survived their 
early childhood. The registers of the Temple Church 
record the baptisms of all the seven children, ranging 
from the year 1762 to 1775. Of the three who lived 
Charles was the youngest. The other two were his 
brother John, who was twelve years, and his sister Mary 
Anne (better known to us as Mary), who was ten years 
his senior. The marked difference in age between Charles 
and his brother and sister, must never be overlooked in 
the estimate of the difiSculties, and of the heroism, of his 
later life. 

In the essay already cited — that on the Old Benchers 
of the Inner Temple — Charles has drawn for us a touching 
portrait of his father, the barrister's clerk, under the name 
of Lovel. After speaking of Samuel Salt, the Bencher, 
and certain indolent and careless ways from which he 
"might have suffered severely if he had not had honest 
people about him," he digresses characteristically into a 
description of the faithful servant who was at hand to 
protect him : 

" Lovel took care of everything. He was at once his clerlt, his good 
servant, his dresser, his friend, his 'flapper,' his guide, stop-watch, 
auditor, treasurer. He did nothing without consulting Lovel, or fail- 
ed in anything without expecting and fearing his admonishing. He 


put himself almost too much in his hands, had they not been the 
purest in the world. He resigned his title almost to respect as a 
master, if Lovel could ever have forgotten for a moment that he was 
a servant. 

" I knew this Lovel. He was a man of an incorrigible and losing 
honesty. A good fellow withal, and ' would strike.' In the cause 
of the oppressed he never considered inequalities, or calculated the 
number of his opponents. He once wrested a sword out of the hand 
of a man of quality that had drawn upon him, and pommelled him 
severely with the hilt of it. The swordsman had offered insult to a 
female — an occasion upon which no odds against him could have 
prevented the interference of Lovel. He would stand next day bare- 
headed to the same person, modestly to excuse his interference, for 
Lovel never forgot rank, where something better was not concerned. 
Lovel was the liveliest little fellow breathing ; had a face as gay as 
Garrick's, whom he was said greatly to resemble (I have a portrait 
of him which confirms it) ; possessed a fine turn for humorous poetry 
— next to Swift and Prior ; moulded heads in clay or plaster of Paris 
to admiration, by the dint of natural genius merely ; turned cribbage- 
boards, and such small cabinet toys, to perfection ; took a hand at 
quadrille or bowls with equal facility ; made punch better than any 
man of his degree in England ; had the merriest quips and conceits, 
and was altogether as brimful of rogueries and inventions as you 
could desire. He was a brother of the angle, moreover, and just 
such a free, hearty, honest companion as Mr. Izaak Walton would 
have chosen to go a-fishing with. 

" I saw him in his old age, and the decay of his faculties, palsy- 
smitten, in the last sad stage of human weakness — ' a remnant most 
forlorn of what he was ' — ^yet even then his eye would light up upon 
the mention of his favourite Garrick. He was greatest, he would 
Bay, in Bayes — 'was upon the stage nearly throughout the whole 
performance, and as busy as a bee.' At intervals, too, he would 
speak of his former life, and how he came up a little boy from Lin- 
coln to go to service, and how his mother cried at parting with him, 
and how he returned after some few years' absence in his smart new 
livery, to see her, and she blessed herself at the change and could 
hardly be brought to believe that it was 'her own bairn.' And 
then, the excitement subsiding, he would weep, till I have wished 

4 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

that sad second-ohildhood might have a mother still to lay its head 
upon her lap. But the common mother of us all in no long time 
after received him gently into hers." 

I have digressed, in my turn, from the story of Charles 
Lamb's own life, but it is not without interest to learn 
from whom Charles inherited, not only something of his 
versatility of gift, but his chivalry and tenderness. 

The household in Crown OfiSce Bow were from the be- 
ginning poor — of that we may feel certain. An aunt of 
Charles, his father's sister, formed one of the family, and 
contributed something to the common income, but John 
Lamb the elder was the only other bread-winner. And a 
barrister's clerk with seven children born to him in a 
dozen years, even if lodging were found him, could not 
have had much either to save or to spend. Before seven 
years of age Charles got the rudiments of education from 
a Mr. William Bird, whose school-room looked "into a dis- 
coloured dingy garden in the passage leading from Fetter 
Lane into Bartlett's Buildings." We owe this, and some 
other curious information about the academy, to a letter 
of Lamb's addressed in 1826 to Hone, the editor of the 
Every Day Book. In that periodical had appeared an ac- 
count of a certain Captain Starkey, who was for some 
time an assistant of Bird's. The mention of his old 
teacher's name in this connexion called up in Lamb many 
recollections of his earliest school-days, and produced the 
letter just named, full of characteristic matter. The 
school, out of Fetter Lane, was a day-school for boys, and 
an evening-school for girls, and Charles and Mary had the 
advantages, whatever they may have been, of its instruc- 
tion. Starkey had spoken of Bird as " an eminent writer, 
and teacher of languages and mathematics," &c. ; upon 
which Lamb's comment is, " Heaven knows what Ian- 

1.] BOYHOOD. 8 

gnages were tauglt in it then ! I am sure that neither 
my sister nor myself brought any out of it but a little of 
our native English." Then follow some graphic descrip- 
tions of the birch and the ferule, as wielded by Mr. Bird, 
and other incidents of school-life : 

"Oh, how I remember our legs wedged into those uncomfortable 
sloping desks, where we sat elbowing each other ; and the injunctions 
to attain a free hand, unattainable in that position ; the first copy I 
wrote after, with its moral lesson, ' Art improves nature ;' the still 
earlier pot-hooks and the hangers, some traces of which I fear may 
yet be apparent in this manuscript." 

When Charles had absorbed such elementary learning 
as was to be acquired under Mr. Bird and his assistants, 
his father might have been much perplexed where to find 
an education for his younger son, within his slender 
means, and yet satisfying his natural ambition, had not a 
governot of Christ's Hospital, of the name of Yeates, prob- 
ably a friend of Samuel Salt, offered him a presentation to 
that admirable charity. And on the 9th of October, 1782, 
Charles Lamb, then in his eighth year, entered the institu- 
tion, and remained there for the next seven years. 

There is scarcely any portion of his life about which 
Larab has not himself taken his readers into his confidence, 
and in his essay on Witches and other Night-fears he has 
referred to his own sensitive and superstitious childhood, 
made more sensitive by the books, meat too strong for 
childish digestion, to which he had free access in his fa- 
ther's collection. " I was dreadfully alive to nervous ter- 
rors. The night-time solitude and the dark were my hell. 
The sufferings I endured in this nature would justify the 
expression. I never laid my head on mj pillow, I sup- 
pose, from the fourth to the seventh or eighth year of my 

6 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

life — so far as memory serves in things so long ago — with- 
out an assurance, which realized its own prophecy, of see- 
ing some frightful spectre." Lamb was fond both of ex- 
aggeration and of mystification, as we shall see further on, 
but this account of his childhood is not inconsistent with 
descriptions of it from other sources. There was a strain 
of mental excitability in all the family, and in the case of 
Charles the nervousness of childhood was increased by the 
impediment in his speech which remained with him for 
life, and made so curious a part of his unique personality. 
"He was an amiable, gentle boy," wrote one who had been 
at school with him, " very sensible and keenly observing, 
indulged by his school-fellows and by his master on ac- 
count of his infirmity of speech. I never heard his name 
mentioned," adds this same school-fellow, Charles Valen- 
tine Le Grice, " without the addition of Charles, although, 
as there was no other boy of the name of Lamb, the addi- 
tion was unnecessary ; but there was an implied kindness 
in it, and it was a proof that his gentle manners excited 
that kindness." Let as note here that this term " gentle " 
(the special epithet of Shakspeare) seems to have occurred 
naturally to all Lamb's friends, as that which best described 
him. Coleridge, Wordsworth, Landor, and Cary recall no 
trait more tenderly than this. And let us note also that 
the addition of his Christian name (Lamb loved the use 
of it : " So Christians," he said, " should call one another ") 
followed him through life and beyond it. There is per- 
haps no other English writer who is so seldom mentioned 
by his surname alone. 

Of Lamb's experience of school-life we are fortunate in 
having a full description in his essay, entitled Recollections 
of Chrisfs Hospital, published in 1818, and the sequel to 
it, called Chrisfs Hospital Five-and-thirty Years Ago (one 


of the Mia essays), published two years later. But it re- 
quires some familiarity with Lamb's love of masquerading, 
already referred to, to disengage fact from fancy, and ex- 
tract what refers to himself only, in these two papers. 
The former is, what it purports to be, a serious tribute of 
praise to the dignified and elevating character of the great 
charity by which he had been fostered. It speaks chiefly 
of the young scholar's pride in the antiquity of the foun- 
dation and the monastic customs and ritual which had 
survived into modern times ; of the founder, " that godly 
and royal child. King Edward VI., the flower of the Tudor 
name — the young flower that was untimely cropped, as 
it began to fill our land with its early odours — the boy- 
patron of boys — the serious and holy child who walked 
with Cranmer and Ridley," with many touching' reminis- 
cences of the happy days spent in country excursions or 
visits to the sights of London. But in calling up these 
recollections it seems to have struck Lamb that his old 
school, like other institutions, had more than one side, and 
that the grievances of school-boys, real and imaginary, as 
well as the humorous side of some of the regulations and 
traditions of the school, might supply material for another 
picture not less interesting. Accordingly, under the dis- 
guise of the signature Mia, he wrote a second account of 
his school, purporting to be a corrective of the over-colour- 
ing employed by "Mr. Lamb" in the former account. 
The writer affects to be a second witness called in to sup- 
plement the evidence of the first. " I remember L. at 
school," writes Lamb, under the signature of Mia. " It 
happens very oddly that my own standing at Christ's was 
nearly corresponding to his ; and with all gratitude to him 
for his enthusiasm for the cloisters, I think he has con- 
trived to bring together whatever can be said in praise of 

8 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

them, dropping all the other side of the argument most 
ingeniously." This other side Lamb proceeds, with charm- 
ing humour, to set forth, and he does so in the character 
of one, a " poor friendless boy," whose parents were far 
away at " sweet Calne, in Wiltshire," after which his heart 
was ever yearning. The friendless boy whose personality 
is thus assumed, was young Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who 
had entered the school the same year as Lamb, though three 
years his senior. Coleridge and Lamb were school-fellows 
for the whole seven years of the latter's residence, and 
from this early association arose a friendship as memora- 
ble as any in English Literature. " Sweet Calne, in Wilt- 
shire," was thus one of Lamb's innocent mystifications. 
It was to the old home at "sweet Ottery St. Mary," in 
Devonshire, that young Samuel Taylor's thoughts turned, 
when he took his lonely country rambles, or shivered at 
the cold windows of the print-shops to while away a win- 
ter's holiday. 

In the character of Coleridge — though even here the 
dramatic position is not strictly sustained — Lamb goes on 
to relate, in the third person, many incidents of his own 
boyish life, which differed of necessity from his friend's. 
Charles Lamb was not troubled how to get through a win- 
ter's day, for he had shelter and friendly faces within easy 
reach of the school. " He had the privilege of going to 
see them, almost as often as he wished, through some in- 
vidious distinction which was denied to us. The present 
worthy sub-treasurer to the Inner Temple can explain how 
that happened. He had his tea and hot rolls in the morn- 
ing, while we were battening upon our quarter of a penny- 
loaf moistened with attenuated small-beer, in wooden pig- 
gins, smacting of the pitched leathern jack it was poured 
from." And the writer proceeds to draw a charming picture 


of some emissary from Lamb's home, his " maid or aunt," 
bringing him some home -cooked dainty, and squatting 
down on " some odd stone in a by-nook of the cloisters " 
while he partook of it. It suggests a pleasant and happy 
side to this portion of Charles Lamb's life. Humble as 
his home -was, still home was near, and not unmindful of 
him ; and, even taking into account the severities of the 
discipline and other of the school-boy's natural grievances, 
it would seem as if Lamb's school-years had a genial in- 
fluence on his mind and spirit. 

As to the education, in the common acceptation of the 
word, which he gained during those seven years at Christ's 
Hospital, we may form a very just notion. When he left 
the school, in his fifteenth year, in November, 1789, he 
was (according to his own statement made in more than 
one passage of his writings) deputy Grecian. Leigh Hunt, 
who entered the school two years after Lamb quitted it, 
and knew him intimately in later life, says the same thing. 
Talfourd seems to have applied to the school authorities 
for precise information, and gives a somewhat difEerent ac- 
count. He says that "in the language of the school" he 
was " in Greek form, but not deputy Grecian." No such 
distinction is understood by "Blues" of a later date, but 
it may possibly mean that Lamb was doing deputy Gre- 
cians' work, though he was in some way technically dis- 
qualified from taking rank with them, " He had r^ad," 
Talfourd goes on to tell us, " Virgil, Sallust, Terence, Lu- 
cian, and Xenophon, and had evinced considerable skill in 
the niceties of Latin composition." Latin, not Greek, was 
certainly his strong point, and with Terence especially he 
shows a familiar acquaintance. He wrote colloquial Latin 
with great readiness, and in turning nursery rhymes into 
that language, as well as in one or two more serious at- 

10 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

tempts, there are proofs of an ease of expression very cred- 
itable to the scholarship of a boy of fourteen. And if (as 
appears certain) Lamb, though not in the highest form at 
Christ's Hospital, had the benefit of the teaching of the 
head-master, the Eev. James Boyer, we have good reason 
for knowing that, pedant and tyrant though Boyer may 
have been, he was no bad trainer for such endowments as 
Coleridge's and Lamb's. 

Coleridge, in his Biographia Literaria, has drawn a com- 
panion picture of the better side of Christ's Hospital dis- 
cipline, which may judiciously be compared with Lamb's. 
" At school I enjoyed the inestimable advantage of a very 
sensible, though at the same time a very severe, master. 
He early moulded my taste to the preference of Demos- 
thenes to Cicero, of Homer and Theocritus to Virgil, and 
again of Virgil to Ovid. He habituated me to compare 
Lucretius (in such extracts as I then read), Terence, and, 
above all, the chaster poems of Catullus, not only with the 
Roman poets of the so-called silver and brazen ages, but 
with even those of the Augustan era ; and, on grounds of 
plain sense and universal logic, to see and assert the supe- 
riority of the former in the truth and nativeness both of 
their thoughts and diction. At the same time that we 
were studying the Greek tragic poets, he made us read 
Shakspeare and Milton as lessons ; and they were the les- 
sons, too, which required most time and trouble to bring 
up, so as to escape his censure. I learnt from him that 
poetry, even that of the loftiest, and seemingly that of the 
wildest odes, had a logic of its own as severe as that of 
science, and more difficult, because more subtle, more com- 
plex, and dependent on more and more fugitive causes. 
In the truly great poets, he would say, there is a reason 
assignable, not only for every word, but for the position 


of every word ; and I well remember that, availing himself 
of the synonymes to the Homer of Didyraiis, he made ns 
attempt to show, with regard to each, why it would not 
have answered the same purpose, and wherein consisted the 
peculiar fitness of the word in the original text." Such a 
teacher, according to Coleridge, was the guiding spirit of 
Christ's Hospital ; and even allowmg for Coleridge having 
in later life looked back with magnifying eyes upon those 
early lessons, and read into Boyer's teaching something 
that belonged rather to the learner than the teacher, we 
need not doubt how great were the young student's obli- 
gations to his master. Lamb, who was three years young- 
er, and never reached the same position in the school, may 
not have benefited directly by this method of Boyer's, but 
he was the intimate companion of the elder school-boy, and 
whatever Boyer taught we may be sure was handed on in 
some form or other to Lamb, tinged though it may have 
been by the wondrous individuality of his friend. 

For the influence of Coleridge over Lamb, during these 
school-days and afterwards, is one of the most important 
elements a biographer of Lamb has to take account of. 
The boy, Samuel Taylor, had entered the school, as we 
have seen, in the same year. He was a lonely, dreamy 
lad, not living wholly apart from the pastimes of his com- 
panions, wandering with them into the country, and bath- 
ing in the New Eiver, on the holidays of summer, but 
taking his pleasure on the whole sadly, loving above all 
things knowledge, and greedily devouring whatever of 
that kind came in his way. Middleton, afterwards Bishop 
of Calcutta, at the time a Grecian in the school, found 
him one day reading Virgil in his play-hour, for his own 
amusement, and reported the circumstance to Boyer, who 
acted upon it by fostering henceforth in every way his 

12 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

pupil's talent. A stranger who met the boy one day in 
the London streets, lost in some day-dream, and moving 
his arms as one who " spreadeth forth his hands to swim," 
extracted from him the confession that he was only think- 
ing of Leander and the Hellespont. The stranger, im- 
pressed with the boy's love of books, subscribed for him 
to a library in the neighbourhood of the school, and 
young Coleridge proceeded, as he has told us, to read 
" through the catalogue, folios and all, whether I under- 
stood them or did not understand them, running all risks 
in skulking out to get the two volumes which I was en- 
titled to have daily." With a full consciousness, as is 
apparent of his power, he seems at this age to have had 
no desire for distinction, but only for enlarged experience. 
At one time he wanted to be apprenticed to a shoemaker, 
whose wife had shown him soma kindness. At a later 
time, encouraged by the example of his elder brother who 
had come up to walk the London Hospital, he conceived 
a passion for the medical profession and read every book 
on doctoring he could lay his hands on. He went 
through a phase of atheism — again, probably, out of sheer 
curiosity — until he was judiciously {so he said) flogged 
out of it by Boyer. And meantime he was reading met- 
aphysics, and writing verses, in the true spirit of the fut- 
ure Coleridge. The lines he composed in his sixteenth 
year, suggested by his habit of living in the future till 
time present and future became in thought inextricably 
intermingled, surely entitle him to the name of the " mar- 
vellous boy," as truly as anything Chatterton had' written 
at the same age : 

" On the wide level of a mountain's head 
(I knew not where, but 'twas some fairy place), 


Their pinions, ostrich-like, for sails outspread, 
Two lovely children run an endless race, 

A sister and a brother ! 

That far outstripp'd the other; 
Yet ever runs she with reverted face, 
And looks and listens for the boy behind ; 

For he, alas ! is blind ! 
O'er rough and smooth with even step he pass'd. 
And knows not whether he be first or last." 

A striking feature of these lines is not so much that 
tliey are not the echo of any one school of poetry, but 
that in the special metaphysic of the thought, and the pe- 
culiar witchery of the verse, Coleridge here anticipated his 
matui'est powers. It is on first thoughts strange that the 
boy who had read through whole libraries, " folios and 
all," and who could write verses such as these, should have 
been so deeply stirred as we know him to have been at 
the age of seventeen, when the small volume of fourteen 
sonnets of William Lisle Bowles fell into his hands. 
"What was there, it might well be asked, in the poetry of 
Bowles, pathetic and graceful as it was, so to quicken the 
poetic impulse of Coleridge, that years afterwards he 
wrote of it to a friend as having "done his heart more 
good than all the other boots he ever read, excepting his 
Bible?" It is the fashion in the present day to speak 
slightingly of Bowles, but his sonnets have unquestionable 
merit. Their language is melodious to a degree which 
perhaps only Collins in that century had surpassed, and 
it expressed a tender melancholy, which may have been 
inspired also by the study of the same poet. But Cole- 
ridge, the omnivorous reader, can hardly have been un- 
acquainted with Gray and Collins, and the writer of sucTi 

lines as — 

14 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

" On the wide level of a mountain's head 
(I knew not where, but 'twas some fairy place), 

could have had little to learn, as to the subtler music of 
versification, even from the greatest models. But it is 
significant that Coleridge couples these sonnets with the 
Bible, and he could hardly have done so without meaning 
it to be understood that Bowles' sonnets marked some 
change not purely artistic in his mind's growth. For the 
melancholy of Gray was constitutional, but the sadness of 
Bowles had its root in a close habit of introspection, and 
dwelling upon the moral side of things. The pensive 
beauty of such a sonnet as the well-known one on the 
Influence of Time on Chief wakes chords that are not 
often reached by the sentiment of the elder poets. There 
can be little doubt that at a critical point of Coleridge's 
life his moral nature was touched in ways for which he 
was profoundly grateful by these few poems of Bowles. 
He admits the obligation, indeed, in the first version of 
his sonnet to Bowles, when he confesses that "those soft 
strains " waked in him " love and sympathy " as well as 
fancy, and made him henceforth " not callous to a broth- 
er's pains." And we are justified in believing that his 
young companion, Charles Lamb, was passing with him 
along the same path of deepening thoughtfulness. He, 
too, had felt the charm of Bowles' tenderness. In his 
earliest letters to Coleridge no other name is mentioned 
oftener and with more admiration ; and writing to his 
friend a few years later, from the " drudgery of the desk's 
dead wood " at the India House, Lamb complains sorrow- 
fully, " Not a soul loves Bowles here : scarce one has 
heard of Burns : few but laugh at me for reading my 


It was in the year 1789, the year of the publication of 
Bowles' earliest sonnets, that Charles Lamb was removed 
from Christ's Hospital, and the companionship of the two 
friends was for a while interrupted. Lamb had found oth- 
er congenial associates among the Blue Coats, and has em- 
balmed their names in various ways in his essays ; the two 
Le Grices from Cornwall, and James White, whose passion 
was for Shakspeare, and who afterwards compiled a collec- 
tion of letters, as between Falstaff and his friends, in which 
he displayed some fancy, but chiefly a certain skill in tak- 
ing to pieces the phraseology of the humorous characters 
in the historical plays and re-setting it in divers combina- 
tions. It was by these and other like accidents that the 
tastes and powers of the young Charles Lamb were being 
drawn forth in those seven years of school-life. The Latin 
and Greek of the Eev. Matthew Field, the under grammar- 
master, even the more advanced instruction under James 
Boyer, had a less important bearing on the future Mia 
than the picturesque surroundings of the Temple, alternat- 
ing with those of the foundation of Edward VI., and above 
all, the daily companionship of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 

Leigh Hnnt, in his autobiography, has described with 
great humour and spirit the Christ's Hospital of his day, 
only two or three years later. Hunt left school at the age 
of fifteen, when he had attained the same rank as Lamb — 
deputy Grecian — and, as he tells us, for the same reason. 
He, too, had an impediment in his speech. "I did not 
stammer half so badly as I used, but it was understood 
that a Grecian was bound to deliver a public speech before 
he left school, and to go into the Church afterwards ; and 
as I could do neither of these things, a Grecian'I could not 
be." During his seven years in the school. Hunt often 
saw Charles Lamb, when he came to visit his old school- 

16 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. i. 

fellows, and recalled in after-life the "pensive, brown, hand- 
some, and kindly face," and "the gait advancing with a 
motion from side to side, between involuntary unconscious- 
ness and attempted ease." He dressed even then, Leigh 
Hunt adds, with that "Quaker -like plainness" that dis- 
tinguished him all through life. 

To leave school must have been to Charles Lamb a bit- 
ter sorrow. His aptitude for the special studies of the 
school was undeniable, and to part from Coleridge must 
have been a still heavier blow. His biographers have fol- 
lowed Leigh Hunt in pointing out that the school exhibi- 
tions to the universities were given on the implied condi- 
tion of the winners of them proceeding to holy orders, and 
that in Lamb's case his infirmity of speech made that im- 
possible. But there were probably other reasons, not less 
cogent. It must liave been of importance to his family 
that Charles should, with as little delay as possible, begin 
to earn his bread. There was poverty in his home, and 
tlie prospect of means becoming yet more straitened. 
There were deepening anxieties of still graver cast, as we 
shall see hereafter. The youngest child of the family re- 
turned to share this poverty and these anxieties, and to 
learn thus early the meaning of that law of sacrifice to 
which he so cheerfully submitted for the remainder of his 




In two of Lamb's Essays of Elia, My Relations, and MacJc- 
ery End in Hertfordshire, he has described various mem- 
bers of his own family, and among them his brother John 
and his sister Mary. These should be carefully read, in 
conjunction with the less studied utterances on the same 
theme in his letters, by those who would understand the 
conditions of that home of which he now, became an in- 
mate. Of the family of seven children born in the Tem- 
ple to John and Elizabeth Lamb, only three survived, the 
two just mentioned, and Charles. The elder brother, John, 
at the time of his brother's leaving school a young man of 
twenty-six, held an appointment in the South Sea House. 
There was a Plamer in the oiBce, mentioned by Lamb in 
his essay on that institution, and it was with the Plumer 
family in Hertfordshire that Lamb's grandmother had been 
house-keeper. It was probably to such an introduction 
that John Lamb owed his original clerkship in the office, 
and it is evident that at the time he first comes under our 
notice, his position in the office was fairly lucrative, and 
that the young man, unmarried, and of pleasant artistic 
tastes, was living by himself, enjoying life, and not trou- 

18 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

bling himself too mucli about his poor relations in the 
Temple. The genial selfishness of his character is de- 
scribed with curious frankness by Charles, who yet seemed 
to entertain a kind of admiration for the well-dressed dil- 
ettante who cast in this way a kind of reflected light of 
respectability upon his humble relatives. He even ad- 
dresses a sonnet to his brother, and applauds him for 
keeping " the elder brother up in state." There is a touch 
of sarcasm here, perhaps ; and there is a sadder vein of 
irony in the description in My Relations : 

' " It does me good as I walk towards the street of my daily avoco/- 
tion on some fine May morning, to meet him marching in a quite op- 
posite direction, with a jolly handsome presence, and shining san- 
guine face that indicates some purchase in his eye — a Claude or a 
Hobbima — for much of his enviable leisure is consumed at Christie's 
and Phillips', or where not, to pick up pictures and such gauds. On 
these occasions he mostly stoppeth me, to read a short lecture on the 
advantage a person like me possesses above himself, in having his 
time occupied with business which he must do; assureth me that he 
often feels it hang heavy on his hands ; wishes he had fewer holidays ; 
and goes ofE Westward Ho ! chanting a tune to Pall Mall ; perfectly 
convinced that he has convinced me, while I proceed in my opposite 
direction tuneless." 

We feel that this picture needs no additional touches. . 
" Marching in a quite opposite direction " was what John 
Lamb continued to do, in all respects, as concerned the 
dutiful and home-keeping members of his family. It was 
not to him that father and mother, sister or brother, were 
to look for help in their great need. Wholly different 
was the other elder child, next to him in age, Mary Lamb, 
the Bridget Mia of the Essays. Ten years older than 
Charles, she filled a position to him in these boyish days 
rather of mother than of sister. It is clear that these two 


children from the earliest age depended much on one anoth- 
er for sympathy and support. The mother never under- 
stood or appreciated the daughter's worth, and the father, 
■who seems to have married late in life, was already failing 
in health and powers when Charles left school. The broth- 
er and sister were therefore thrown upon one another for 
companionship and intellectual sympathy, when school 
friendships were for a while suspended. Mary Lamb 
shared from childhood her brother's taste for reading. 
" She was tumbled early, by accident or design, into a 
spacious closet of good old English reading, without much 
selection or prohibition, and browsed at will upon that fair 
and wholesome pasturage." The spacious closet was, it . 
would seem, the library of Samuel Salt, to which both she 
and Charles early had access. It was a blessed resource 
for them in face of the monotony and other discomforts 
of their home and against more serious evils. There was, 
as we have seen, a taint of mania in the family, inherited 
from the father's side. It appeared in difEerent shapes iu 
all three children, if we are to trust a casual remark in one 
of Charles' letters touching his brother John. But in Mary 
Lamb there is reason to suppose that it had been a cause 
of anxiety to her parents from an early period of her life. 
In one of his earliest poems addressed to Charles Lamb, 
Coleridge speaks of him creeping round a " dear-loved 
sister's bed, with noiseless step," soothing each pang with 
fond solicitude. These claims upon his brotherly watch- 
fulness fell to the lot of Charles while still a boy, and they 
were never relaxed during life. There was a pathetic truth 
in tSe prediction of Coleridge which followed : 

" Cheerily, dear Charles ! 
Thou thy best friend shalt cherish many a year." 

20 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

He continued to devote himself to this, his best friend, for 
more than forty years, and henceforth the lives of the 
brother and sister are such that the story of the one can 
hardly be told apart from the other. ^^^ 

It has been said that Lamb's fii^^^^K were passed 
between the Temple and Christ' ^^^^Et^ — between 
"cloister and cloister" — but there -v^^feappy holiday 
seasons when he had glimpses of a ve^^'flifferent life. 
These were spent with his grandmother, Mary Field, at 
the old mansion of the Plumer family, Blakesware, closely 
adjoining the pleasant village of Widford, in Hertford- 
shire. The Plumers had two residences in the county, 
one at Gilston, and the other just mentioned, a few miles 
distant. The latter was the house where the dowager 
Mrs. Plumer and younger children of the family resided. 
Sometimes there would be no members of the family to 
inhabit it, and at such times old Mrs. Field, who held the 
post of house-keeper for the last fifty or sixty years of her 
life, reigned supreme over the old place. Her three grand- 
children were then often with her, and the old-fashioned 
mansion, with its decaying tapestries and carved chimneys, 
together with the tranquil, rural beauty of the gardens and 
the sun'ounding country, made an impression on the child- 
ish imagination of Lamb, which is not to be overlooked 
in considering the influences which moulded his thought 
and style. There were many ties of family affection bind- 
ing him to Hei'tfordshire. His grandmother was a native 
of the county, and in the beautiful essay called Mackery 
End he has described a visit paid in later life to other re- 
lations, in the neighborhood of Wheathampstead. It is 
noticeable how Lamb, the " scorner of the fields," as 
Wordsworth termed him, yet showed the true poet's ap- 
preciation of English rural scenery, whenever at least his 


heart was touched by any association of it with human 
joy or sorrow. 

In 1'792 Mrs. Field died at a good old age, and lies bur- 
ied in the quiet church-yard of Widford. Lainb has pre- 
served her memory in the tender tribute to her virtues, 
The Grandame, which appeared among his earliest pub- 
lished verses : 

" On the green hill top 
Hard by the house of prayer, a modest roof, 
And not distinguished from its neighbour-barn 
Save by a slender tapering length of spire. 
The Grandame sleeps. A plain stone barely tells 
The name and date to the chance passenger." 

Time and weather have effaced even name and dale, but 
the stone is still pointed out in Widford church-yard. The 
old lady had suffered long from an incurable disease, and 
the young Charles Lamb had clearly found some of his 
earliest religious impressions deepened by watching her 
courage and resignation : 

" For she had studied patience in the school 
Of Christ ; much comfort she had thence derived 
And was s, follower of the Nazarene." 

With her death the tie with Blakesware was not broken. 
The family of the Lambs had pleasant relations with other 
of the Widford people. Their constant friend, Mr. Ran- 
dal Norris, the sub -treasurer of the Inner Temple, had 
connexions with the place, and long after the death of 
Mrs. Field we find Lamb and his sister spending occasional 
holidays in the neighbourhood. 

At some date, unfixed, in the two years following his 
removal from Christ's Hospital, Charles obtained a post of 
some kind in the South Sea House, where his brother John 

22 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

held an appointment. No account of this period of his 
life remains to us, except such as can be drawn from the 
essay on the South Sea Mouse, written thirty years later 
in the London Magazine as the first of the papers signed 
Mia. The essay contains little or nothing about himself, 
and we are ignorant as to the duties and emoluments of 
his situation. It was not long, however, before he got 
promotion, in the form of a clerkship in the accountant's 
office of the East India Company, obtained for him through 
the influence of Samuel Salt. His salary began at the rate 
of 70/. a year, rising by gradual steps, and in the service 
of the East India Company Charles Lamb continued for 
the rest of his working life. 

Of these first years of official life, from the date of his 
entry into the office in April, 1792, till the spring of 1796, 
there is little to be learned, save from a few scattered allu- 
sions in the letters which from this later date have been 
preserved. Up to the year 1796 the family of Lamb con- 
tinued to live in the Temple, when the increasing infirmity 
of John Lamb the elder made him leave the service of his 
old employer and retire on a small pension to lodgings in 
Little Queen Street, Holborn. No fragment of writing of 
Charles Lamb of earlier date than 1795 has been preserved. 
His work as a junior clerk absorbed the greater part of his 
day and of his year. In his first years of service bis an- 
nual holiday was a single week, and this scanty breathing- 
space he generally spent in his favourite Hertfordshire. 
Then there were the occasional visits to the theatre, and it 
was the theatre which all through life shared with books 
, the keenest love of Lamb and his sister. He has left us 
an account, in the essay. My First Play, of his earliest 
experiences of this kind, beginning with Artaxerxes, and 
proceeding to The Lady of the Manor and the Way of the 


World, all seen by him when he was between six and sev- 
en years old. Seven years elapsed before he saw another 
play (for play-going was not permitted to Christ's Hospi- 
tal boys), and he admits that when after that interval he 
visited the theatre again, much of its former charm had 
vanished. The old classical tragedy and the old-world sen- 
timental comedy alike failed to satisfy him, and it was not 
till he first saw Mrs. Siddons that the acted drama re- 
asserted its power. "The theatre became to him, once 
more," he tells us, " the most delightful of recreations." 
One of the earliest of his sonnets records the impression 
made upon him by this great actress. And as soon as we 
are admitted through his correspondence with Coleridge 
and others to know his tastes and habits, we find how im- 
portant a part the drama and all its associations were play- 
ing in the direction of his genius. 

Nor was the gloom of his home life unrelieved by occa- 
sional renewals of the intellectual companionship he had 
enjoyed at school. Coleridge had gone up to Jesus Col- 
lege, Cambridge, early in 1791, and except daring the six 
months of his soldier's life in the Light Dragoons, remain- 
ed there for the next four years. During this time he 
made occasional visits to London, when it was the great 
pleasure of the two school-fellows to meet at a tavern near 
Smithfield, the "Salutation and Cat" (probably a well- 
known rallying-point in the old. Christ's days), and there 
to spend long evenings in discussion on literature and the 
other topics dear to both. Coleridge was now writing 
poems, and finding a temporary home for them in the 
columns of the Mm ning Chronicle. Among them ap- 
peared the sonnet on Mrs. Siddons, which was thus prob- 
ably Lamb's first appearance in print. Both the young 
men were clearly dreaming of authorship, and Lamb's first 

24 X CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

avowed appearance as author was in the first volume of 
poems by Coleridge, published by Cottle, of Bristol, in the 
spring of the year 1796. "The effusions signed C. L.,"says 
Coleridge in the preface to this volume, " were written by 
Mr. Charles Lamb of the India House. Independently of 
the signature, their superior merit would have suflBciently 
distinguished them." The effusions consisted of four son- 
nets, the one already noticed on Mrs. Siddons, one " writ- 
ten at midnight by the sea-side after a voyage," and two, ' 
in every way the most noteworthy, dealing with the one 
love romance of Charles Lamb's life. The sonnets have 
no special literary value, but the first of these has impor- 
tance enough in its bearing on Lamb's character to justify 
quotation : 

" Was it some sweet device of Faery 
That mocked my steps with many a lonely glade, 
And fancied wanderings with a fair-haired maid ? 
Ilave these things been ? Or what rare witchery, 
Impregning with delights the charmed air, 
Enlightened up the semblance of a smile 
In those fine eyes ? methought they spake the while 
Soft soothing tilings, which might enforce despair 
To drop the murdering knife, and let go by 
His foul resolve. And does the lonely glade 
Still court the footsteps of the fair-haired maid ? 
Still in her locks the gales of summer sigh ? 
While I forlorn do wander, reckless where. 
And 'mid my wanderings meet no Anna there." 

If the allusions in this and the following sonnet stood 
alone, we might well be asking, as in the case of Shak- 
speare's sonnets, whether the situation was not dramatic 
rather than autobiographical; but we have good reasons 
for inferring that the Anna, "the fair-haired maid" of 


these poems, Lad a real existence. His first love is re- 
ferred to constantly in later letters and essays as Alice 

W n, and it is easy to perceive that the Anna of the 

sonnets and this Alice W n were the same person. 

In both cases the fair hair and the mild, pale blue eyes 
are the salient features. But'the sonnets that tell of these 
tell also of the " winding wood-walks green," and 

"the little cottage which she loved, 
The cottage which did once my all contain." 

From these alone we might infer that Lamb had first 
met the subject of them, not in London, but during his 
frequent visits to Blakesware. Lamb himself, often so 
curiously out-spoken on the subject of his personal his- 
tory, has nowhere directly told us where he met his Alice, 
but he cannot seriously have meant to keep the secret. In 
the essay, Blakeamoor m H shire, he recalls the picture- 
gallery with the old family portraits, and among them 
" that beauty with the cool, blue, pastoral drapery, and a 
lamb, that hung next the great bay-window, with the bright 
yellow Hertfordshire hair, so like my Alice!" His "fair- 
haired maid" was clearly from Hertfordshire. It will be 
seen hereafter what light is further thrown on the matter 
by Lamb himself. All that we know as certain is that 
Lamb, while yet a boy, lost his heart, and that, whether the 
course of true love ran smooth or not, he willingly submit- 
ted to forego the hoped-for tie, when a claim upon his , 
devotion appeared in the closer circle of his home. 

Unless, indeed, a more personal and even more terrible 
occasion of this sacrifice had arisen at an earlier date. "We 
know, on his own admission, that in the winter of 1795- 
'96, Charles Lamb himself succumbed to the family mal- 
ady, and passed some weeks in confinement. In the earliest 

26 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

of his letters ttat has been preserved, belonging to the 
early part of 1Y96, he tells his friend Coleridge the sad 
truth : 

"My life has been somewhat diversified of late. The six weeks 
that finished last year and began this, your very humble servant 
spent very agreeably in a mad-house at Hoxton. I am got somewhat 
rational now, and don't bite any one. But mad I was ! . . . . Cole- 
ridge, it may convince you of my regard for you when I tell you my 
head ran on you in my madness, as much almost as on another per- 
son, who I am inclined to think was the more immediate cause of my 
temporary frenzy." 

The " other person " can have been no other than the 
fair-haired Alice, and if disappointed love was the imme- 
diate cause of his derangement, the discovery in him of 
this tendency may have served to break ofiE all relations 
between the lovers still more effectually. Wonderfully 
touching are the lines which, as he tells Coleridge in the 
same letter, were written by him in his prison-house in one 
of his lucid intervals : 

" To MT Sister. 

" If from my lips some angry accents fell. 
Peevish complaint, or harsh reproof unkind, 
'Twas but the error of a sickly mind 
And troubled thoughts, clouding the purer well, 
And waters clear, of Reason : and for me 
Let this my verse the poor atonement be — 
My verse, which thou to praise wert e'er inclined 
Too highly, and with a partial eye to see 
No blemish. Thou to me didst ever show 
Kindest affection ; and would'st ofttimes lend 
An ear to the despairing, lovesick lay, 
Weeping my sorrows with me, who repay 
But ill the mighty debt of love I owe, 
Mary, to thee, my sister and my friend." 


The history of many past weets or months seems writ- 
ten in these lines ; the history of a hopeless attachment, a 
reason yielding to long distress of mind, and a sister's love 
already repaying by anticipation the " mighty debt " 
which in after days it was itself to owe. 

This year, 1795-96, was indeed a memorable one in 
the annals of the brother and sister. The fortunes of 
the Lamb family were at low ebb. They had removed to 
lodgings in Little Queen Street, the mother a confirmed 
invalid, and the father sinking gradually into second child- 
hood. Charles had been temporarily under restraint, and 
Mary Lamb, in addition to the increasing labor of minis- 
tering to her parents, was working for their common 
maintenance by taking in needle-work. It is not strange 
that under this pressure her own reason, so often threaten- 
ed, at last gave way. It was in September of 1796 that 
the awful calamity of her life befell. A young apprentice 
girl, who was at work in the common sitting-room while 
dinner was preparing, appears to have excited the latent 
mania. Mary Lamb seized a knife from the table, pursued 
the girl round the room, and finally stabbed to the heart 
her mother who had interfered in the girl's behalf. It 
wa's Charles Lamb himself who seized the unhappy sister, 
and wrested the knife from her hand, but not before she 
had hurled in her rage other knives about the room, and 
■wounded, though not fatally, the now almost imbecile 
father. ' The Times of a few days later relates that an in- 
quest was held on the following day, and a verdict of 
insanity returned in the case of the unhappy daughter. 
Lamb's account of the event is given in a letter to Cole- 
ridge, of September 27th : 

" Mt deakest Friend, — White, or some of my friends, or the pub- 
lic papers by this time may hare informed you of the terrible calam- 

28 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

ities that have fallen on our family. I will only give you the out- 
lines : My poor dear, dearest sister, in a fit of insanity, has been the 
death of her own mother. I was at hand only time enough to snatch 
the knife out of her grasp. She is at present in a mad-house, from 
whence I fear she must be moved to an hospital. God has preserved 
to me my senses — I eat, and drink, and sleep, and have my judg- 
ment, I believe, very sound. My poor father was slightly wounded, 
and I am left to take care of him and my aunt. Mr. Norris, of the 
Bluecoat School, has been very kind to us, and we have no other 
friend ; but, thank God, I am very calm and composed, and able to 
do the best that remains to do. Write as religious a letter as possi- 
ble, but no mention of what is gone and done with. With me the 
' former things are passed away,' and I have something more to do 
than to feel. 

" God Almighty have us well in His keeping. 

"C. Lamb. 

" Mention nothing of poetry. I have destroyed every vestige of 
past vanities of that kind. Do as you please ; but if you publish, 
publish mine (I give free leave) without name or initial, and never 
send me a book, I charge you." 

A second letter followed in less than a week, in a tone 
somewhat less forlorn : 

"Tour letter was an inestimable treasure to me. It will be a 
comfort to you, I know, to know that our prospects are somewhat 
brighter. My poor dear, dearest sister, the unhappy and uncon- 
scious instrument of the Almighty's judgments on our house, is re- 
stored to her senses ; to a dreadful sense and recollection of what 
has past, awful to her mind and impressive (as it must be to the end 
of life), but tempered with religious resignation and the reasonings 
of a sound judgment, which, in this early stage, knows how to dis- 
tinguish between a deed committed in a transient fit of frenzy and 
the terrible guilt of a mother's murder. I have seen her. I found 
her, this morning, calm and serene ; far, very far, from an indecent, 
forgetful serenity; she has a most affectionate and tender concern 
for what has happened. Indeed, from the beginning, frightful aud 
hopeless as her disorder seemed, I had confidence enough in her 
strength of mind and religious principle, to look forward to a time 


Avlien even s7ie might recover tranquillity. God be praised, Coleridge, 
■wonderful as it is to tell, I have never once been otherwise than col- 
lected and calm ; even on the dreadful day, and in the midst of the 
terrible scene, I preserved a tranquillity which by-standers may have 
construed into indifference— a tranquillity not of despair. Is it folly 
or Bin in me to say that it was a religious principle that most sup- 
ported me? I allow much to other favourably circumstances. I 
felt that I had something else to do than to regret. On that first 
evening, my aunt was lying insensible, to all appearance like one 
dying — my father, with his poor forehead plastered over, from a. 
wound he had received from a daughter dearly loved by him, who 
loved him no less dearly — my mother a dead and murdered corpse 
in the next room — yet was I wonderfully supported. I closed not 
my eyes in sleep that night, but lay without terrors and without de- 
spair. I have lost no sleep since. I had been long used not to rest 
in things of sense ; had endeavoured after a comprehension of mind, 
unsatisfied with the ' ignorant present time,' and this kept me up. 
I had the whole weight of the family thrown on me ; for my brother, 
little disposed (I speak not without tenderness for him) at any time 
to take care of old age and infirmities, had now, with his bad leg, an 
exemption from such duties, and I was now left alone. . . . 

" Our friends here have been very good. Sara Le Grice, who was 
then in town, was with me the three or four first days, and was as a 
brother to me ; gave up every hour of his time, to the very hurting 
of his health and spirits, in constant attendance and humouring my 
poor father ; talked with him, read to him, played at cribbage with 
him (for so short is the old man's recollection that he was playing at 
cards, as though nothing had happened, while the coroner's inquest 
was sitting over the way). Samuel wept tenderly when he went 
away, for his mother wrote him a very severe letter on his loitering 
so long in town, and he was forced to go. Mr. Norris, of Christ's " 
Hospital, has been as a father to me ; Mrs. Norris as a mother, 
though we had few claims on them. A gentleman, brother to my 
godmother, from whom we never had right or reason to expect any 
such assistance, sent my father 201. ; and to crown all these God's 
blessings to our family at such a time, an old lady, a cousin of my 
father's and aunt's, a, gentlewoman of fortune, is to take my aunt 
and make her comfortable for the short remainder of her days. My 
aunt is recovered, and as well as ever, and highly pleased at thoughts 

80 CHAELES LAMB. [chap. 

of going ; and has generously given up the interest of her little mon- 
ey (which was formerly paid my father for her board) wholly and 
solely to my sister's use. Reckoning this, we have, Daddy and I, for 
our two selves and an old maid-servant to look after him when I am 
out, which will be necessary, 1101., or 180?. rather, a year, out of 
which we can spare 50/. or 601, at least for Mary while she stays at 
Islington, where she must and shall stay during her father's life, for 
his and her comfort. I know John will make speeches about it, but 
she shall not go Into an hospital. The good lady of the mad-house, 
and her daughter — an elegant, sweetbehaved young lady — love her 
and are taken with her amazingly ; and I know from her own mouth 
she loves them, and longs to be with them as much. Poor thing! 
they say she was but th^ Qther morning saying she knew she must 
go to Bethlehem for life; that one of her brothers would have it 
so, but the other would wish it not, but be obliged to go with the 
stream ; that she had ofteA as slje passed Bethlehem thought it 
likely, 'here it may be my fate to end my days,' conscious of a 
certain flightiness in her poor head oftentimes, and mindful of move 
than one severe illness of that nature before. A legacy of 100?., 
which my father will have at Christmas, and this 201. I mention- 
ed before, with what is in the house, will much more than set us 
clear. If my father, an old servant - maid, and I, can't live, and 
live comfortably, on ISOl. or 120?. a year, we ought to burn by slow 
fires; and I almost would, that Mary might not go into an hos- 
pital. Let me not leave one unfavourable impression on your mind 
respecting my brother. Since this has happened he has been 
very kind and brotherly, but I fear for his mind. He has taken 
his ease in the world, and is not fit himself to struggle with difficul- 
ties, nor has much accustomed himself to throw himself into their 
way ; and I know his language is already, " Charles, you must take 
care of yourself, you must not abridge yourself of a single pleasure 
you have been used to," &c., &c,, and in that style of talking. But 
you, a necessarian, can respect a difference of mind, and love what 
is amiable in a character not perfect. He has been very good, but 
I fear for his mind. Thank God, I can unconnect myself with him, 
and shall manage all my father's monies in future myself if I take 
charge of Daddy, which poor John has not even hinted a wish, at 
any future time even, to share with me. The lady at this mad-house 
assures me that I may dismiss immediately both doctor and apothe- 


cary, retaining occasionally a composing draught or so for a while ; 
and there is a less expensive establishment in her house, where she 
will not only have a room and nurse to herself for 50?. or guineas a 
year — the outside would be 60?. — ^you know by economy how much 
more even I shall be able to spare for her comforts. She will, I 
fancy, if she stays make one of the family, rather than of the pa- 
tients ; the old and young ladies I like exceedingly, and she loves 
dearly ; and they, as the saying is, take to her extraordinarily, if it 
is extraordinary that people who see my sister should love her. Of 
all the people I ever saw in the world, my poor sister was most and 
thoroughly devoid of the quality of selfishness. I will enlarge upon 
her qualities, dearest soul, in a future letter for my own comfort, for 
I understand her thoroughly ; and if I mistake not, in the most try- 
ing situation that a human being can be found in, she will be found 
(I speak not with sufficient humility, I fear, but humanly and fool- 
ishly speaking) she will be found, I trust, uniformly great and ami- 
able. God keep her in her present mind, to whom be thanks and 
praise for all His dispensations to mankind." 

It is necessary for the full understanding of what Charles 
Lamb was, and of the life that lay before him, that this 
deeply interesting account should be given in his own 
■words. Anything that a biographer might add would only 
■weaken the picture of courage, dutifulness, and affection 
here presented. The only fitting sequel to it is the his- 
tory of the remaining five-and-thirty years in which he 
fulfilled so nobly and consistently his self-imposed task. 

That task was made lighter to him than in the natural 
dejection of the first sad moments he could have dared to 
hope. The poor old father survived the mother but a few 
months, and passed quietly out of life early in the follow- 
ing year. The old aunt, who did not long find a home 
with the capricious relative who had undertaken the charge 
of her, returned to Charles and his father, only, however, 
to survive her brother a few weeks. Charles was now free 
to consult his own wishes as to the future care of his sis- 

82 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. n. 

ter. She was still in the asylum at Hoxton, and it was his 
earnest desire that she might return to live with him. By 
certain conditions and arrangements between him and the 
proper authorities, her release from confinement was ulti- 
mately brought about, and the brother's guardianship was 
accepted as suflBcient for the future. She returned to share 
his solitude for the remainder of his life. The mania 
which had once attacked Charles, never in his case re- 
turned. Either the shock of calamity, or the controlling 
power of the vow he had laid on himself, overmastered the 
inherited tendency. But in the case of Mary Lamb it re- 
turned at frequent intervals through life, never again, hap- 
pily, with any disastrous result. The attacks seem to have 
been generally attended with forewarnings, which enabled 
the brother and sister to take the necessary measures, and 
a friend of the Lambs has related how on one occasion he 
met the brother and sister, at such a season, walking hand 
in hand across the fields to the old asylum, both bathed 
in tears. 




Early in 1797 Charles Lamb and his sister began their 
life of "dual loneliness." But during these first years 
the brother's loneliness was often unshared. Much of 
Mary Lamb's life was passed in visits to the asylum, and 
the mention of her successive attacks is of melancholy 
recurrence in Charles' letters. Happily for the brother's 
sanity of mind, he was beginning to find friends and sym- 
pathies in new directions. What books had been to him 
all his life, and what education he had been finding in 
them, is evident from his earliest extant letters. His 
published correspondence begins in 1796, with a letter to 
Coleridge, then at Bristol, and from this and other letters 
of the same year we see the first signs of that variety of 
literary taste so noteworthy in a young man of twenty- 
one. The letters of this year are mainly on critical sub- 
jects. He encloses his own sonnets, and points out the 
passages in elder writers, Parnell or Cowley, to which he 
has been indebted. Or he acknowledges poems of Cole- 
ridge, sent for his criticism, and proceeds to express his 
opinion on them with frankness. He had been intro- 
duced to Southey, by Coleridge, some time in 1795, and 
he writes to the latter, " With Joan of Arc I have been 
delighted, amazed; I had not presumed to expect any- 

34 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

thing of such excellence from Southey. Why, the poem 
is alone sufficient to redeem the character of the age we 
live in from the imputation of degenerating in poetry, 
were there no such beings extant as Burns, Bowles, and 
Cowper, and — ; fill up the blank how you please." It 
is noticeable also how prompt the young man was to dis- 
cover the real significance of the poetic revival of the lat- 
ter years of the eighteenth century. Burns he elsewhere 
mentions at this time to Coleridge in stronger terms of 
enthusiasm as having been the " God of my idolatry, as 
Bowles was of yours,'' nor was he less capable of appre- 
ciating the " divine chit - chat " of Cowper. The real 
greatness of Wordsworth he was one of the earliest to 
discover and to proclaim. And at the same time his im- 
agination was being stirred by the romantic impulse that 
was coming from Germany. " Have you read," he asks 
Coleridge, "the ballad called 'Leonora' in the second 
number of the Monthly Magazine? If you have!!! 
There is another fine song, from the same author (Bur- 
ger) in the third number, of scarce inferior merit." But 
still more remarkable in the intellectual history of so 
young a man is the acquaintance he shows with the ear- 
lier English authors, at a time when the revival of Shak- 
spearian study was comparatively recent, and when the 
other Elizabethan dramatists were all but unknown save 
to the archaeologist. We must suppose that the library 
of Samuel Salt was more than usually rich in old folios, 
for certainly Lamb had not only " browsed " (to use his 
own expression), but had read and criticized deeply, as 
well as discursively. In a letter to Coleridge of this same 
year, 1796, he quotes with enthusiasm the rather artificial 
lines of Massinger in A very Woman, pointing out the 
" fine effect of the double endings :" 


" Not far from where my father lives, a lady, 
A neighbour by, blest with as great a beauty 
As nature durst bestow without undoing. 
Dwelt, and most happily, as I thought then. 
And blest the house a thousand times she dwelt in. 
This beauty, in the blossom of my youth. 
When my first fire knew no adulterate incense. 
Nor I no way to flatter but my fondness. 
In all the brarery my friends could show me, 
In all the faith my innocence could give me. 
In the best language my true tongue could tell me, 
And all the broken sighs my sick heart lend me, 
I sued and served ; long did I serve this lady. 
Long was my travail, long my trade to win her ; 
With all the duty of my soul I served her.'" 

Beaumont and Fletcher he quotes with no less delight, 
" in which authors I can't help thinting there is a greater 
richness of poetical fancy than in any one, Shakspeare 
excepted." Again, he asks the same inseparable friend, 
"Among all your quaint readings did you ever light upon 
Walton's Complete Angler? I asked you the question 
once before; it breathes the very spirit of innocence, pu- 
rity, and simplicity of heart ; there are many choice old 
verses interspersed in it : it would sweeten a man's tem- 
per at any time to read it: it would Christianize every 
discordant angry passion." And while thus discursive in 
his older reading, he was hardly less so in the literature of 
his own century. He had been fascinated by the Confes- 
sions of Rousseau, and was for a time at least under the 
influence of the sentimental school of novelists, the follow- 
ers of Richardson and Sterne in^ England. So varied was 

' These lines are interesting as having been chosen by Lamb for a 
" motto " to his first published poems. As so used, they clearly bore 
a reference to his own patient wooing at that time. 

36 CHAELES LAMB. [chap. 

the field of authors and subjects on which his style was 
being formed and his fancy nourished. 

Long afterwards, in his essay on Books and Meading, he 
boasted that he could read anything which he called a 
book. " I have no repugnances. Shaftesbury is not too 
genteel for me, nor Jonathan Wild too low." But this 
versatility of sympathy, which was at the root of so large 
a part of both matter and manner when he at leng-th dis- 
covered where his real strength lay, had the effect of de- 
laying that discovery for some time. His first essays in 
literature were mainly imitative, and though there is not 
one of them that is without his peculiar charm, or that a 
lover of Charles Lamb would willingly let die, they are 
more interesting from the fact of their authorship, and 
from the light they throw on the growth of Lamb's mind, 
than for their intrinsic value. 

Meantime, his life in the lonely Queen Street lodging 
was cheered by the acquisition of some new friends, chiefly 
introduced by Coleridge. He had known Southey since 
1795, and some time in the following year, or early in 
1797, he had formed a closer bond of sympathy with 
Charles Lloyd, son of a banter of Birmingham, a young 
man of poetic taste and melancholy temperament, who had 
taken up his abode, for the sake of intellectual compan- 
ionship, with Coleridge at Bristol. One of the first results 
of this companionship was a second literary venture in 
which the new friend took a share. A second edition of 
Poems hy S. T. Coleridge, to which are now added Poems 
hy Charles Lamb and Charles Lloyd, appeared at Bristol, 
in the summer of 1797, published by Coleridge's devoted 
admirer, Joseph Cottle. 

" There were inserted in my former edition," writes 
Coleridge in the preface, " a few sonnets of my friend and 


oM scliool-fellovv, Charles Lamb. He has now communi- 
cated to me a complete collection of all his poems ; quse 
qui non prorsus amet, ilium omnes et virtutes et veneres 
odere." The phrase is a trifle grandiloquent to describe 
the short list — some fifteen in all — of sonnets and occa- 
sional verses here printed. Nor is there anything in 
their style to indicate the influence of new models. A 
tender grace of the type of his old favourite, Bowles, is 
still their chief merit, and they are interesting as show- 
ing how deeply the events of the past few years had stir- 
red the religious side of Charles Lamb's nature. A re- 
view of the day characterized the manner of Lamb and 
Lloyd as " plaintive," and the epithet is not ill-chosen. 
Lamb was still living chiefly in the past, and the thought 
of his sister, and recollection of the pious "Grandame" 
in Hertfordshire, with kindred memories of his own child- 
hood and disappointed affections, make the subject-mat- 
ter of almost all the verse. A little allegorical poem, with 
the title of " A Vision of Repentance," relegated to an 
appendix in this same volume, marks the most sacred con- 
fidence that Lamb ever gave to the world as to his medi- 
tations on the mystery of evil. 

It is unlikely that this little venture brought any profit 
to its authors, or that a subsequent volume of blank verse 
by Lamb and Lloyd in the following year was more remu- 
nerative. To Lloyd the question was doubtless of less im- 
portance ; but Lamb was anxious for his sister's sake to 
add to his scanty income, and with this view he resolved 
to make an experiment in prose fiction. In the year 1798 
he composed his little story, bearing the title, as originally 
issued, of A Tale of Rosamund Gray and Old Blind Mar- 

This " miniature romance," as Talfourd calls it, is per- 

38 CHABLES LAMB. [chap. 

haps better known, after the Essays of Elia, than any of 
Lamb's writings, and the secret of its charm, in the face 
of improbabilities and unrealities of many kinds, is one of 
the curiosities of literature. The story itself is built up 
of the most heterogeneous materials. The idea of the 
story, the ruin of a village maiden, Bosamund Gray, by 
a melodramatic villain with the " uncommon " name of 
Matravis, was suggested. to Lamb, as he admits in a letter 
to Southey, by a "foolish" (and it must be added, a very 
scurrilous) old ballad about "an old woman clothed in 
grey." The name of his heroine he borrowed from some 
verses of his friend Lloyd's (not included in their joint 
volume), and that of the villain from one of the ruflBans 
employed to murder the king in Marlowe's Edward ike 
Second — that death-scene which he afterwards told the 
world " moved pity and terror beyond any scene ancient 
or modem " with which he was acquainted. The conduct 
of the little story bears strong traces of the influence of 
Eichardson and Mackenzie, and a rather forced reference 
to the latter's Julia de RouMgne seems to show where he 
had lately been reading. A portion of the narrative is 
conducted by correspondence between the two well-bred 
young ladies of the story, and when one of them begins a 
letter to her cousin, " Health, innocence, and beauty shall 
be thy bridesmaids, my sweet cousin," we are at once 
aware in what school of polite letter- writing the author 
had studied. After the heroine, the two principal char- 
acters are a brother and sister, Allan and Elinor Clare, 
the relation between whom (the sister is represented as 
just ten years older than ker brother) is borrowed almost 
without disguise from that of Lamb and his sister Mary. 
"Elinor Clare was the b^st good creature, the least selfish 
human being I ever knew, always at work for other 


people's good, planning other people's happiness, contin- 
ually forgetful to consult for her own personal gratifica- 
tions, except indirectly in the welfare of another; while 
her parents lived, the most attentive of daughters; since 
they died, the kindest of sisters. I never knew but one 
like her." There is besides a school-fellow of Allan's, who 
precedes him to college, evidently a recollection of the 
school-friendship with Coleridge. But still more signifi- 
cant, as showing the personal element in the little ro- 
mance, is the circumstance that Lamb lays the scene of it 
in that Hertfordshire village of Widford where so many 
of his own happiest hours had been spent, and that the 
heroine, Eosamund Gray, is drawn with those features on 
which he was never weary of dwelling in the object of his ■ 
own boyish passion. Rosamund, with the pale blue eyes 
and the " yellow Hertfordshire hair," is but a fresh copy 
of his Anna and his Alice. That Rosamund Gray had 
an actual counterpart in real life seems certain, and the 
little group of cottages, in one of which she dwelt with 
her old grandmother, is still shown in the village of Wid- 
ford, about half a mile from the site of the old mansion of 
Blakesware. And it is the tradition of the village, and 
believed by those who have the best means of judging, 
that "Rosamund Gray" (her real name was equally re- 
mote from this, and from Alice W n) was Charles 

Lamb's first and only love. Her fair hair and eyes, her 
goodness, and (we may assume) her poverty, were drawn 
from life. The rest of the story in which she bears a 
part is of course pure fiction. The real Anna of the 
sonnets made a prosperous marriage, and lived to a good 
old age. 

As if Lamb were resolved to give his little tale the 
character of personal " confessions," he has contrived to 

40 CHAKLES LAMB. [chap. 

introduce into it, by quotation or allusion, all his favourite 
writers, from Walton and Wither to Mackenzie and Burns. 
But of more interest from this point of view than any 
resemblances of detail is the shadow, as of recent calamity, 
that rests upon the story, and the strain of religious emo- 
tion that pervades it. It is this that gives the romance, 
conventional as it is for the most part in its treatment of 
life and manners, its real attractiveness. It is redolent of 
Lamb's native sweetness of heart, delicacy of feeling, and 
undefinable charm of style. And these qualities did not 
altogether fail to attract attention. The little venture 
was a moderate success, and brought its author some 
" few guineas." One tribute to its merits was paid many 
years later, which, we may hope, did not fail to reach the 
author. Shelley, writing to Leigh Hunt from Leghorn, 
in 1819, and acknowledging the receipt of a parcel of 
books, adds, " With it came, too. Lamb's works. What a 
lovely thing is his Mosamund Gray! How much knowl- 
edge of the sweetest and deepest part of our nature in it ! 
When I think of such a mind as Lamb's, when I see how 
unnoticed remain things of such exquisite and complete 
perfection, what should I hope for myself, if I had not 
higher objects in view than fame ?" 

There is scanty material for the biographer of Lamb and 
his sister during these first four years of struggling pover- 
ty. The few events that varied their monotonous life are 
to be gathered from the letters to Coleridge and Sonthey, 
written during this period. The former was married, and 
living at Nether Stowey, near Bristol, where Charles and 
Mary Lamb paid him apparently their first visit, during 
one of Charles' short holidays in the summer of 1797. 
This visit was made memorable by a slight accident that 
befell Coleridge on the day of their arrival, and forced 


him to remain at home while his visitors explored the sur- 
rounding country. Left alone in his garden, he composed 
the curiously Wordsworthian lines, bearing for title (he 
was perhaps reminded of Ferdinand, in the Tempest), 
"This lime-tree bower my prison," in which he apostro- 
phizes Lamb as the " gentle-hearted Charles," and addresses 
him as one who had 

" Hungered after nature, many a year 
In the great city pent, winning thy way 
With sad and patient zeal, through evil and pain 
And strange calamity.'' 

Charles did not quite relish the epithet " gentle-heart- 
ed," and showed that he winced under a title that savoured 
a little of pity or condescension. Indeed, it is evident, in 
spite of the real affection that Lamb never ceased to feel 
for Coleridge, that the relations between the friends were 
often strained during these earlier days. This year, 1797, 
■was that of the joint volume, and the mutual criticism in- 
dulged so freely by both was leaving a little soreness be- 
hind. Then there was the question of precedence between 
Lamb and Lloyd in this same volume, which was settled 
in Lloyd's favour, not without a few pangs, confessed by 
Lamb himself. And when, in the following year, Cole- 
ridge was on the eve of his visit to Germany with the 
Wordsworths, a foolish message of his, " If Lamb requires 
any knowledge, let him apply to me," had been repeated 
to Lamb by some injudicious friend, and did not tend to 
improve matters. Lamb retaliated by sending Coleridge 
a grimly humorous list of " Theses qusedam Theologicse," 
to be by him " defended or oppugned (or both) at Leipsio 
or Gottingen." Numbers five and six in this list may be 
given as a sample. " Whether the higher order of Ser- 

42 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

aphim illuminati ever sneer ?" " WhetHer pure intelli- 
gences can love, or whether they can love anything besides 
pure intellect?" The rest are in the same vein, and if 
they have any point at all, it must lie in an allusion to 
certain airs of lofty superiority in which Coleridge had 
indulged to the annoyance of his friend. There was a 
temporary soreness in the heart of Charles on parting with 
his old companion. There had been a grievance of the 
same kind before. It had been bitterly repented of, even 
in a flood of tears. To the beginning of this year, 1798, 
belong the touching verses composed in the same spirit 
of self-confession that has marked so much of his writ- 
ing up to this period, about the " old familiar faces.'.' In 
their earliest shape they are more directly autobiographical. 
Lamb afterwards omitted the first stanza, and gave the lines 
a less personal character. The precise occasion of their 
being written seems uncertain, but the reference to the 
friend whom he had so nearly thrown away, in a moment 
of pique, is unmistakable : 

" Where are they gone, the old familiar faces ? 
I had a mother, but she died, and left me — 
Died prematurely in a day of horrors — 
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 

" I have had playmates, I have had companions 
In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-daya, 
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 

" I have been laughing, I have been carousing. 
Drinking late, sitting late, with my bosom cronies — 
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 

" I loved a love once, fairest among women. 
Closed are her doors on me, I must not see her— 
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 


" I had a friend, a kinder friend has no man. 
Like an ingrate, 1 left my friend abruptly ! 
Left him to muse on the old familiar faces. 

" Ghost-like I paced round the haunts of my childhood. 
~ Earth seemed a desert I was bound to traverse, 
Seeking to find the old familiar faces. 

" Friend of my bosom, thou more than a brother ; 
Why wert not thou born in my father's dwelling, 
So might we talk of the old familiar faces. 

" For some they have died, and some they have left me, 
And some are taken from me, all are departed ; 
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces." 

The "friend of my bosom" was the new associate, 
Lloyd, who seems for a time at least to have taken Cole- 
ridge's place as Lamb's special confidant. He, too, had 
had his grievances against the "greater Ajax," and the 
two humbler combatants, who had " come into battle un- 
der his shield," found consolation at this time in one an- 
other. Lloyd was moody and sensitive — even then a prey 
to the melancholy which clung to him through life, and it 
was well for Lamb that on Coleridge leaving England he 
had some more genial companionship to take refuge in. 
It was three years since he had made the acquaintance of 
Southey. In the summer of 1797 he and Lloyd had passed 
a fortnight under his roof in Hampshire. And now that 
Coleridge was far away, it was Southey who naturally took 
his place as literary adviser and confidant. 

We gather from Lamb's letters to Southey, in l798-'99, 
that this change of association for the time was good for 
him. Coleridge and Lloyd were of temperaments too 
nearly akin to Lamb's to be wholly serviceable in these 


days, when the calamities in his family still overshadowed 
him. The friendship of Southey, the healthy-natured, the 
industrious, and the methodical, was a wholesome change 
of atmosphere. Southey was now living at Westbury, 
near Bristol. Though only a few months Lamb's senior, 
he had been three years a mariied man, and was valiantly 
■working to snpport his young wife by that craft of liter- 
ature which he followed so patiently to his life's end. In 
this year, 1798, he was in his sweetest and most humor- 
ous ballad vein. It was the year of the Well of St. Keijne 
and the Battle of Blenheim, and other of those shorter 
pieces by which Southey will always be most widely 
known. He had not failed to discover Lamb's value as 
a critic, and each eclogue or ballad, as it is written, is sub- 
mitted to his judgment. The result of this change of in- 
terest is shown in a marked difference of tone and style in 
Lamb's letters. He is less sad and meditative, and begins 
to exhibit that peculiar playfulness which we associate with 
the future Elia. One day he writes, " My tailor has brought 
me home a new coat, lapelled, with a velvet collar. He 
assures me everybody wears velvet collars now. Some are 
born fashionable, some achieve fashion, and others, like 
your humble servant, have fashion thrust upon them." 
And his remarks on Southey's ode To a Spider (in which 
he justly notes the metre as its chief merit, and wonders 
that " Burns had not hit upon it") are followed by a dis- 
cursive pleasantry having the true Jilia ring, " I love this 
sort of poems that open a new intercourse with the most 
despised of the animal and insect race. I think this vein 
may be further opened. Peter Pindar hath very prettily 
apostrophized a fly ; Burns hath his mouse and his louse ; 
Coleridge, less successfully, hath made overtures of inti- 
macy to a jackass, therein only following, at unresembling 


distance, Sterne and greater Cervantes. Besides these, I 
know of no other examples of breaking down tlie parti- 
tion between us and our ' poor earth-born companions.' " 
And the suggestion that follows,' that Southey should un- 
dertake a series of poems, with the object of awakening 
sympathy for animals too generally ill-treated or held in 
disgust, is most characteristic, both in matter and man- 
ner. Indeed, it is in these earlier letters to Soutbey, 
rather than in his poetry or in Rosamund Gray, that 
Charles Lamb was feeling the way to his true place in 
literature. Already we observe a vein of reflectiveness 
and a curious felicity of style which owe nothing to any 
predecessor. And if his humour, even in his lightest 
moods, has a tinge of sadness, it is not to be accounted 
for only by the suffering he had passed through. It be- 
longed, in fact, to the profound humanity of its author, 
to the circumstance that with him, as with all true hu- 
mourists, humour was but one side of an acute and almost 
painful sympathy. 

At the close of the year 1799 Coleridge returned from 
Germany, and the intercourse between the two friends was 
at once resumed, never again to be interrupted. Early in 
the year following Charles and his sister removed from 
the Queen Street lodging, where they had continued to re- 
side since his mother's death, to Chapel Street, Penton- 
ville. It appears from a letter of Charles to Coleridge, in 
the spring of 1800, that there was no alleviation of his 
harden of constant anxiety. The faithful old servant of 
many years had died, after a few days' illness, and Lamb 
writes, "Mary, in consequence of"; fatigue and anxiety, is 
fallen ill again, and I was obliged to remove her yesterday. 
I am left alone in a house with nothing but Hetty's dead 
body to keep me company. To-morrow I bury her, and 
3* ."" 

46 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

then I shall be quite alone with nothing but a cat to re- 
mind me that the house has been full of living beings like 
myself. My heart is quite sunk, and I don't know where 
to look for relief. Mary will get better again, but her 
constantly being liable to these attacks is dreadful ; nor is 
it the least of our evils that her case and all our story is 
so well known around us. We are in a manner marked. 
Excuse my troubling you, but I have nobody by me to 
speak to me. I slept out last night, not being able to en- 
dure the change and the stillness ; but I did not sleep 
well, and I must come back to my own bed. I am going 
to try and get a friend to come and be with me to-mor- 
row. I am completely shipwrecked. My head is quite 
bad. I almost wish that Mary were dead. God bless 
you. Love to Sarah and little Hartley." 

It is the solitary instance in which he allows us to see 
his patience and hopefulness for a moment failing him. 
That terrible sentence " we are in a manner marked " has 
not perhaps received its due weight, in the estimate of 
what the brother and sister were called upon to bear. It 
seems certain that if they were not actually driven from 
lodging to lodging, because the dreadful rumour of mad- 
ness could not be shaken off, they were at least shunned 
and kept at a distance wherever they went. The rooms 
in Pentonville they soon received notice to quit, and it was 
then that Charles turned, perhaps because they were more 
quiet and secure from vulgar overlooking, to the old fa- 
miliar and dearly-loved surroundings of his childhood. 
" I am going to change my lodgings," he writes later in 
this same year to his Cambridge friend, Manning, in a 
tone of cheerful looking-forward simply marvellous, con- 
sidering the immediate cause of the removal. " I am go- 
ing to change my lodgings, having received a hint that it 


would be agreeable, at our Lady's next feast. I have 
partly fixed upon most delectable rooms, which, look out 
(when you stand a tiptoe) over the Thames and Surrey 
Hills, at the upper end of King's Bench Walks in the 
Temple. There I shall have all the privacy of a house 
without the encumbrance, and shall be able to lock my 
friends out as often as I desire to hold free converse with 
my immortal mind — for my present lodgings resemble a 
minister's levee, I have so increased my acquaintance (as 
they call 'em) since I have resided in town. Like, the 
country mouse that had tasted a little of urbane manners, 
I long to be nibbling my own cheese by my dear self, 
without mouse-traps and time-traps. By my new plan I 
shall be as airy, up four pair of stairs, as in the country, 
and in a garden in the midst of enchanting (more than 
Mahomedan paradise) London, whose dirtiest drab-fre- 
quented alley, and her lowest-bowing tradesman, I would 
not exchange for Skiddaw, Helvellyn, James, Walter, and 
the parson into the bargain. O ! her lamps of a night ! 
her rich goldsmiths, print-shops, toy-shops, mercers, hard- 
ware men, pastry-cooks, St. Paul's Church-yard, the Strand, 
Exeter Change, Charing Cross, with the man upon a black 
horse ! These are thy gods, O London ! Ain't you 
mightily moped on the banks of the Cam ? Had you not 
better come and set up here? You can't think what a 
difference. All the streets and pavements are pure gold, 
I warrant you. At least, I know an alchemy that turns 
her mud into that metal — a mind that loves to be at home 
in crowds." 

In a letter to Wordsworth, of somewhat later date, 
replying to an invitation to visit the Lakes, he dwells on 
the same passionate love for the great city — the " place of 
his kindly engendure" — not alone for its sights and 

48 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. hi. 

sounds, its print-shops, and its bookstalls, but for the Lu- 
raan faces, without which the finest scenery failed to sat- 
isfy his sense of beauty. " The wonder of these sights," 
he says, " impels me into nightrwalks about her crowded 
streets, and I often shed tears in the motley Strand from 
fulness of joy at so much life. All these emotions must 
be strange to you; so are your rural emotions to me. 
But consider what must I have been doing all ray life not 
to have lent great portions of my heart with usury to 
such scenes ?" 

"What must I have been doing all my lifef This 
might well be the language of tender retrospect indulged 
by some man of sixty. K is that of a young man of six- 
and-twenty. It serves to show us how much of life had 
been crowded into those few years. 



Lamb was now established in his beloved Temple. For 
nearly nipe years he and his sister resided in Mitre Court 
Buildings, and for about the same period afterwards with- 
in the same sacred precincts, in Inner Temple Lane. Of 
adventure, domestic or other, his biographer has hence- 
forth little to relate. The track is marked on the one 
hand by his changes of residence and occasional brief ex- 
cursions into the country, on the other by the books he 
wrote and the friendships he formed. 

He had written to his friend Manning, as we have seen, 
how his acquaintance had increased of late. Of such ac- 
quaintances Manning himself is the most interesting to us, 
as having drawn from Lamb a series of letters by far the 
most important of those belonging to the period before 
us. Manning was a remarkable person, whose acquaint- 
ance Lamb had made on one of his visits to Cambridge 
during the residence at that University of his friend Lloyd. 
He was mathematical tutor at Caius, and, in addition to 
his scientific turn, was possessed by an enthusiasm which 
in later years he was able to turn to very practical pur- 
pose, for exploring the remoter parts of China and Thibet. 
Lamb had formed a strong admiration for Manning's gen- 

60 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

ius. He told Crabb Robinson in after years that he was 
the most " wonderful man " he had ever met. Perhaps 
the circumstance of Manning's two chief interests in life 
being so remote from his own, drew Lamb to him by a 
kind of "sympathy of difference." Certainly he made 
very happy use of the opportunity for friendly banter thus 
afforded, and the very absence of a responsive humour in 
his correspondent seems to have imparted an additional 
richness to his own. Meantime, to add a few guineas to 
his scanty income, he was turning this gift of humour to 
■what end he could. For at least three years (from 1800 
to 1803) he was an occasional contributor of facetious 
paragraphs, epigrams, and other trifles to the newspapers 
of the day. " In those days," as he afterwards told the 
world in one of the Elia essays {Newspapers Thirty-five 
Years Ago), " every morning paper, as an essential retainer 
to its establishment, kept an author, who was bound to 
furnish daily a quantum of witty paragraphs. Sixpence 
a joke — and it was thought pretty high too — was Dan 
Stuart's settled remuneration in these cases. The chat of 
the day, scandal, but above all, dress, furnished the mate- 
rial. The length of no paragraph was to exceed seven 
lines. Shorter they might be, but they must be poignant." 
Dan Stuart was editor of the Morning Post, and Lamb 
contributed to this paper, and also to the Chronicle and 
the Albion. Six jokes a day was the amount he tells us 
he had to' provide during his engagement on the Post, and 
in the essay just cited he dwells with much humour on 
the misery of rising two hours before breakfast (his days 
being otherwise fully employed at the India House) to 
elaborate his jests. " No Egyptian task-master ever de- 
vised a slavery like to that, our slavery. Half a dozen 
jests in a day (bating Sundays too), why, it seems nothing; 


we mate twice the number every day 'in our lives as a 
matter of course, and claim no sabbatical exemptions. 
But then they come into our head. But when the head 
has to go out to them, when the mountain must go to 
Mahomet !" A few samples of Lamb's work in this line 
have been preserved. One political squib has survived, 
chiefly perhaps as having served to give the coup de grace 
to a moribund journal, called the Alhion, which had been 
only a few weeks before purchased (" on tick doubtless," 
Lamb says) by that light-hearted spendthrift, John Fen- 
wick, immortalized in another of Lamb's essays {The Two 
Races of Men) as the typical man who borrows. The jour- 
nal had been in daily expectation of being prosecuted, 
when a (not very scathing) epigram of Lamb's on the 
apostacy of Sir James Mackintosh, alienated the last of 
Fenwick's patrons. Lord Stanhope, and the " murky closet," 
"late Rackstraw's museum," in Fleet Street, knew the edi- 
tor and his contributors no more. Lamb was not called 
upon to air his Jacobin principles, survivals from his old 
association with Coleridge and Southey, any further in the 
newspaper world. "The Albion is dead," he writes to 
Manning, " dead as nail in door— my revenues have died 
with it ; but I am not as a man without hope." He had 
got a new introduction, through his old friend George 
Dyer, to the Morning Chronicle, under the editorship of 
Perry. In 1802 we find him again working for the Post, 
but in a different line. Coleridge was contributing to that 
paper, and was doing his best to obtain for Lamb employ- 
ment on it of a more dignified character than providing 
the daily quantum of jokes. He had proposed to furnish 
Lamb with prose versions of German poems for the latter 
to turn into metre. Lamb had at first demurred, on the 
reasonable ground that Coleridge, whose gift of verse was 

62 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

certainly equal to his own, might as easily do the whole 
process himself. But the pressure of pecuniary difficulty 
was great, and a fortnight later he is telling Coleridge that 
the experiment shall at least be tried. " As to the trans- 
lations, let me do two or three hundred lines, and then do 
you try the nostrums upon Stuart in any way you please. 
If they go down, I will try more. In fact, if I got, or 
could but get, fifty pounds a year only, in addition to what 
I have, I should live in affluence." By dint of hard work, 
much against the grain, he contrived during the year that 
followed to make double the hoped-for sum ; but humour 
and fancy produced to order could not but fail sooner or 
later. It came to an end some time in 1803. " The best 
and the worst to me," he writes to Manning in this year 
(Lamb rarely dates a letter), " is that I have given up two 
guineas a week at the Post, and regained my health and 
spirits, which were upon the wane. I grew sick, and 
Stuart unsatisfied. Ludisti satis, tempus abire est. I must 
cut closer, that's all." 

While writing for the newspapers, he had not allowed 
worthier ambitions to cool. He was still thinking of suc- 
cess in very different fields. As early as the year 1799 he 
had submitted to Coleridge and Sonthey a five-act drama 
in blank verse, with the title of Pride's Cure, afterwards 
changed to John Woodiril. His two friends had urgently 
dissuaded him from publishing, and though he followed 
this advice, he had not abandoned the hope of seeing it 
one day upon the stage, and at Christmas of that year 
had sent it to John Kemble, then manager of Drury Lane. 
Nearly a year later, having heard nothing in the mean time 
from the theatre on the subject, he applied to Kemble to 
know his fate. The answer was returned that the manu- 
script was lost, and Lamb had to furnish a second copy. 


Later, Kemble went so far as to grant the author a per- 
sonal interview, but the final result was that the play was 
declined as unsuitable. 

That Lamb should ever have dreamed of any other re- 
sult may well surprise even those who have some experi- 
ence of the attitude of a young author to his first drama. 
John Woodvil has no quality that could have made its suc- 
cess on the stage possible. It shows no trace of construc- 
tive skill, and the character-drawing is of the crudest. By 
a strange perverseness of choice, Lamb laid the scene of 
his drama, written in a language for the most part closely 
imitated from certain Elizabethan models, in the period of 
the Restoration, and with a strange carelessness introduced 
side by side with the imagery and rhythm of Fletcher and 
Massinger a diction often ludicrously incongruous. Per- 
haps the most striking feature of the play, regarded as a 
serious effort, is the entire want of keeping in the dialogue. 
Certain passages have been often quoted, such as that on 
which Lamb evidently prided himself most, describing 
the amusements of the exiled baronet and his son in the 
forest of Sherwood : 

" To see the sun to bed, and to arise 
Like some hot amourist with glowing eyes, 
Bursting the lazy bands of sleep that bound him 
With all his fires and travelling glories round him. 

To view the leaves, thin dancers upon air, 
Go eddying round, and small birds, how they fare. 
When mother autumn fills their beaks with corn 
Filched from the careless Amalthea's horn.'' 

Tbey serve to show how closely Lamb's fancy and his 
ear were attuned to the music of Shakspeare and Shak- 

64 CHAKLES LAMB. [chap. 

speare's contemporaries; but the illusion is suddenly bro- 
ken by scraps of dialogue sounding the depths of bathos : 

" Servant. — Gentlemen, the fireworks are ready. 
First (?««<.— What be they? 

Lovdl. — The work of London artists, which our host has provided 
in honour of this day.'' 

Or by such an image as that with which the play con- 
cludes, of the penitent John Woodvil, kneeling on the 
"hassock" in the "family -pew" of St. Mary Ottery, in 
the " sweet shire of Devon." 

Lamb was not deterred by his failure with the managers 
from publishing his drama. It appeared in a small duo- 
decimo in 1802 ; and when, sixteen years later, he included 
it in the first collected edition of his writings, dedicated to 
Coleridge, he was still able to look with a parent's tender- 
ness upon this child of his early fancy. " When I wrote 
John Woodvil" he says, "Beaumont and Fletcher, and 
Massinger, were then a first love, and from what I was so 
freshly conversant in, what wonder if my language imper- 
ceptibly took a tinge ?" This expresses, in fact, the real 
significance of the achievement. Though it is impossible 
seriously to weigh the merits of John Woodvil as a drama, 
it is yet of interest as the result of the studies of a young 
man of fine taste and independent judgment in a field of 
English literature which had lain long unexplored. With- 
in a few years Charles Lamb was to contribute, by more 
effective methods, to the revived study of the Elizabethan 
drama, but in the mean time he was doing something, even 
in John Woodvil, to overthrow the despotic conventional- 
ities of eighteenth-century "poetic diction," and to reac- 
custom the ear to the very different harmonies of an older 


John Woodvil was noticed in the Edinburgh Review for 
April, 1803. Lamb might have been at that early date too 
insignificant, personally, to be -worth the powder and shot 
of Jeffrey and his friends, but he was already known as 
the associate of Coleridge and Southey, and it was this 
circumstance — as the concluding words of the review rath- 
er unguardedly admit — that marked his little volume for 
the slaughter. He had been already held up to ridicule 
in the pages of the Anti-Jacobin, as sharing the revolu- 
tionary sympathies of Coleridge and Southey. It is cer- 
tainly curious that Lamb, who never " meddled with poli- 
tics," home or foreign, any more than the Anti- Jacobin's 
knife-grinder himself, should have his name embalmed in 
that periodical as a leading champion of French Socialism : 

" Coleridge and Southey, Lloyd and Lamb and Co., 
Tune all your mystic harps to praise Lepeaux." 

There was abundant opportunity in Lamb's play for the 
use of that scourge which the Edinburgh Review may be 
said to have first invented as a critical instrument. Plot 
and characters, and large portions of the dialogue, lent 
themselves excellently to the purposes of critical banter, 
and it was easy to show that Lamb had few qualifications 
for the task he had undertaken. As he himself observed 
in his essay on Hogarth : " It is a secret well known to 
the professors of the art and mystery of criticism, to insist 
upon what they do not find in a man's works, and to pass 
over in silence what they do." It was open to the re- 
viewer to note, as even Lamb's friend Southey noted, the 
" exquisite silliness of the story," but it did not enter into 
his plan to detect, as Southey had done, the " exquisite 
beauty " of much of the poetry. The reason why it is 
worth while to dwell for a moment on this forgotten re- 

66 CHAELES LAMB. [chap. 

view (not, by the way, by Jeffrey, althougb Lamb's friends 
seem generally to have attributed it to the editor's own 
hand) is that it shows how much Lamb was in advance of 
his reviewer in familiarity with our older literature. The 
review is a piece of pleasantry, of which it would be ab- 
surd to complain, but it is the pleasantry of an ignorant 
man. The writer afiEects to regard the play as a specimen 
of the primeval drama. " We have still among us," he 
says, " men of the age of Thespis," and declares that " the 
tragedy of Mr. Lamb may indeed be fairly considered as 
supplying the first of those lost links which connect the 
improvements of ^schylus with the commencement of 
the art." Talfourd expresses wonder that a young critic 
should " seize on a little eighteen-penny book, simply print- 
ed, without any preface : make elaborate merriment of its 
outline, and, giving no hint of its containing one profound 
thought or happy expression, leave the reader of the re- 
view' at a loss to suggest a motive for noticing such vapid 
absurdities." But there is really little cause for such won- 
der. The one feature of importance in the little drama is 
that it here and there imitates with much skill the ima- 
gery and the rhythm of a family of dramatists whom the 
world had been content entirely to forget for nearly two 
centuries. There is no reason to suppose that Lamb's re- 
viewer had any acquaintance with these dramatists. The 
interest of the review consists in the evidence it affords 
of a general ignorance, even among educated men, which 
Lamb was to do more than any man of his time to dispel. 
The passage about the sports in the forest, which set Wil- 
liam Godwin (who met with it somewhere as an extract) 
searching through Beaumont and Fletcher to find, proba- 
bly conveyed no idea whatever, to the Edinburgh Keview- 
er, save that which ho honestly confessed, that here was 


a specimen of versification which had been long ago im- 
proved from ofE the face of the earth. 

In the summer of 1802 Charles and his sister spent their 
holiday, three weeks, with Coleridge at Keswick. The let- 
ters to Coleridge and Manning referring to this visit show 
pleasantly that there was something of affectation in the 
disparting tone with which Charles was wont to speak 
of the charms of scenery. Though on occasion he would 
make his friends smile by telling that when he ascended 
Skiddaw he was obliged, in self-defence, to revert in mem- 
ory to the ham-and-beef shop in St. Martin's Lane, it is 
evident from his enthusiastic words to Manning that the 
Lake scenery had moved and delighted him. " Coleridge 
dwells," he writes to Manning, " upon a small hill by the 
side of Keswick, in a comfortable house, quite enveloped 
on all sides by a net of mountains : great floundering bears 
and monsters they seemed, all couchant and asleep. We 
got in in the evening, travelling in a post-chaise from Pen- 
rith, in the midst of a gorgeous sunset which transmuted 
all the mountains into colours, purple, &c., &c. We thought 
we had got into Fairyland. But that went o£E (as it never 
came again, while we stayed we had no more fine sunsets) ; 
and we entered Coleridge's comfortable study just in the 
dusk, when the mountains were all dark with clouds upon 
their heads. Such an impression I never received from ob- 
jects of sight before, nor do I suppose that I can ever 
again. Glorious creatures, fine old fellows, Skiddaw, &c., 
I never shall forget ye, how ye lay about that night, like 
an entrenchment; gone to bed, as it seemed for the night, 
but promising that ye were to be seen in the morning." 
And later, " We have clambered up to the top of Skid- 
daw, and I have waded up the bed of Lodore. In fine, I 
have satisfied myself that there is such a thing as that 

58 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

which tourists call ronlantic, which I very much suspected 
before." And again, of Skiddaw, "Oh, its fine black head, 
and the bleak air atop of it, with a prospect of mountains 
all about and about, making you giddy ; and then Scotland 
afar off, and the border countries so famous in song and 
ballad ! It was a day that will stand out like a mountain, 
I am sure, in my life." 

It is pleasant to read of these intervals of bracing air, 
both to body and mind, in the story of the brother and 
sister, for the picture of the home life in the Temple lodg- 
ing at this time, drawn by the same frank hand, is any- 
thing but cheerful. This very letter to Manning (who was 
apparently spending his holiday in Switzerland) goes on to 
hint of grave anxieties and responsibilities belonging to the 
life in London. "My habits are changing, I think, i. e., 
from drunk to sober. Whether I shall be happier or not 
remains to be proved. I shall certainly be more happy in 
a morning; but whether I shall not sacrifice the fat, and 
the marrow, and the kidneys — i. e., the night, glorious care- 
drowning night, that heals all our wrongs, pours wine into 
our mortifications, changes the scene from indifEerent and 
flat to bright and brilliant ? Manning, if I should have 
formed a diabolical resolution by the time you come to 
England, of not admitting any spirituous liquors into my 
house, will you be my guest on such shameworthy terms ? 
Is life, with such limitations, worth trying ? The truth is 
that my liquors bring a nest of friendly harpies about my 
house, who consume me. This is a pitiful tale to be read 
at St. Gothard, but it is just now nearest my heart." 

The tale is indeed a sad one, and we have no reason to 
suppose it less true than pitiful. There is no concealment 
on the part of Lamb himself, or his sister, or of those who 
knew him most intimately, of the fact that from an early 


age Charles found in Tvine, or its equivalents, a stimulus 
that relieved hira under the pressure of shyness, anxiety, 
and low spirits, and that the habit remained with him till 
the end of his life. It is not easy to deal with this " frail- 
ty " (to borrow Talfourd's expression) in Lamb, without 
falling into an apologetic tone, suggestive of the much- 
abused proverb connecting excuse with accusation. But 
it is the biographer's task to account for these things, if 
not to excuse them, and at this period there is not want- 
ing evidence of hard trials attending the life of the brother 
and sister which may well prompt a treatment of the sub- 
ject the reverse of harsh. There is a correspondence ex- 
tant of Mary Lamb with Miss Stoddart, who afterwards 
became the wife of William Hazlitt, which throws much 
sad light on the history of the joint home during these 
years. The pressure of poverty was being keenly felt. 
"I hope, when I write next," she. says, early in 1804, "I 
shall be able to tell you Charles has begun something which 
will produce a little money : for it is not well to be very 
pom; which we certainly are at this present writing." 
Charles' engagement as contributor of squibs and occa- 
sional paragraphs to the Morning Post had come to an 
end just before this letter of Mary's. But poverty was not 
the worst of the home troubles. It is too clear that both 
brother and sister suffered from constant and harassing de- 
pression, and that their heroic determination to live en- 
tirely for each other only made matters worse. " It has 
been sad and heavy times with us lately," Mary writes in 
the year following (1805). " When I am pretty well, his 
low spirits throw me back again ; and when he begins to 
get a little cheerful, then I do the same kind office for 
him ;" and again, " Do not say anything when you write, 
of our low spirits — it will vex Charles. You would laugh, 

60 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

or you would cry, perhaps both, to see us sit together, 
looking at each other with long and rueful faces, and say- 
ing ' How do you do V and ' How do you do ?' and then 
we fall a crying, and say we will be better on the morrow. 
He says we are like toothache and his friend gum-boil, 
which though a kind of ease, is but an uneasy kind of 
ease, a comfort of rather an uncomfortable sort." In the 
following year we gather that Charles, still bent on success 
in the drama as the most likely means of adding to his in- 
come, had begun to write a farce, and finding the gloom 
here described intolerable, in such an association, had taken 
a cheap lodging hard by to which he might retire, and pur- 
sue his work without distraction. But the more utter sol- 
itude proved as intolerable as the depressing influences of 
home. " The' lodging," writes Mary Lamb, "is given up, 
and here he is again — Charles, I mean — as unsettled and 
as undetermined as ever. When he went to the poor lodg- 
ing, after the holidays I told you he had taken, he could 
not endure the solitariness of them, and I had no rest for 
the sole of my foot till I promised to believe his solemn 
protestations that he could and would write as well at 
home as there." 

There is a remark in this same letter, hardly more touch- 
insr than it is indicative of the clear-sighted wisdom of this 
true-hearted. woman. " Our love for each other," she writes, 
" has been the torment of our lives hitherto. I am most 
seriously intending to bend the whole force of my mind 
to counteract this, and I think I see some prospect of suc- 
cess." It doubtless was this strong affection, working by 
ill-considered means, that made much of the unhappiness 
of Charles Lamb's life. His sense of what he owed to his 
sister, who had been mother and sister in one, his admira- 
tion for her character, and his profound pity for her af- 


fliction, made him resolve that no other tie, no other taste 
or pleasure, should interfere with the prime duty of cleav- 
ing to her as long as life should last. But this exclusive 
devotion was not a good thing for either. They wanted 
some strong human interests from outside to assist them 
to bear those of home. They were both fond of society. 
In their later more prosperous days they saw much society 
of a brilliant and notable sort, but already Charles had 
made the discovery that "open house" involved temptar 
tion of a kind he had not learnt to resist. The little sup- 
pers, at home and with friends elsewhere, meant too much 
punch and too much tobacco, and the inevitable sequel of 
depression and moroseness on the morrow. "He came 
home very smoJcy and drinky last night," is the frequent 
burden of Miss Lamb's letters. And so it came to pass 
that his social life was spent too much between these two 
extremes — the companionship of that one sister, anxiety 
for whose health was always pressing, and whose inherited 
instincts were too like his own, and the convivialities which 
banished melancholy for a while and set his fancy and his 
speech at liberty, but too often did not bear the morning's 
reflection. He needed at this time fewer companions, but 
more friends. Coleridge, Southcy, Wordsworth, Manning, 
were all out of London, and only in his scanty holidays, 
or on occasion of their rare visits to town, could he take 
counsel with them. 

One pleasant gleam of sunshine among the driving 
clouds of those years of anxiety is afiEorded in the lines 
on Hester Savary. During the few months that Lamb 
and his sister lodged at Pentonville in 1800, he had fallen 
in love (for the second and last time) with a young Quak- 
eress. In sending the verses to Manning (in Paris) in 
1803, Lamb recalls the old attachment as one his friend 

62 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

would remember having heard him mention. However 
ardent it may have been, it was presumably without hope 
of requital, for Lamb admits that he had never spoken to 
the lady in his life. He may have met her daily in his 
walks to and from the office, or have watched her week by 
week on her way to that Quakers' meeting he has so lov- 
ingly described elsewhere. And now, only a month be- 
fore, she had died, and Lamb's true vein, unspoiled by 
squibs and paragraphs written to order for party journals, 
flows once more in its native purity and sweetness: 

" When maidens such as Hester die 
Their place ye may not well supply, 
Though ye among a thousand try 

With vain endeavour. 
A month or more hath she been dead, 
Yet cannot I by force be led 
To think upon the wormy bed 

And her together. 

" A springy motion in her gait, 
A rising step, did indicate 
Of pride and joy no common rate 

That flushed her spirit. 
I know not by what name beside 
I shall it call : if 'twas not pride, 
It was a joy to that allied 

She did inherit. 

" Her parents held the Quaker rule 
Which doth the human spirit cool : 
But she was trained in Nature's school, 

Nature had blest her. 
A waking eye, a prying mind, 
A heart that stirs, is hard to bind ; 
A hawk's keen sight ye cannot blind— 

Ye could not Hester. 


" My sprightly neighbour, gone before 
To that unknown and silent shore, 
Shall we not meet, as heretofore, 

Some summer morning — 
When from thy cheerful eyes a ray 
Hath struck a bliss upon the day, 
A bliss that would not go away, 

A sweet fore-warning f " 

These charming verses are themselves a " sweet fore- 
warning " of happier times to come. New friends were at 
hand, and new interests in literature were soon to bring 
a little cheerful relief to the monotony of the Temple 
lodging. We have already heard something of a play in 
preparation. The first intimation of Lamb's resolve to 
tempt dramatic fortune once again is in a letter to Words- 
worth, in September, 1805. "I have done nothing," he 
writes, " since the beginning of last year, when I lost my 
newspaper job, and having had a long idleness, I must do 
something, or we shall get very poor. Sometimes I think 
of a farce, but hitherto all schemes have gone off ; an idle 
brag or two of an evening, vapouring out of a pipe, and 
going off in the morning; but now I have bid farewell 
to my ' sweet enemy ' tobacco, as you will see in the next 
page, I shall perhaps set nobly to work. Hang work !" 
He did set to work, in good heart, during the six months 
that followed. Mary Lamb's letters contain frequent ref- 
erences to the farce in progress, and before Midsummer, 
1806, it was completed, and accepted by the proprietors 
of Drury Lane. The farce was the celebrated Mr. H. 

No episode of Lamb's history is better known than the 
production, and the summary failure, of this jeu cfesprit. 
That it failed is no matter for surprise, and most certainly 
none for regret. Though it had the advantage, in its lead- 

64 CHAKLES LAMB. [chap. 

ing character, of the talent of Elliston, the best light-come- 
dian of his day, the slightness of the interest (dealing with 
the inconveniences befalling a gentleman who is ashamed 
to confess that his real name is Hogsflesh) was too patent 
for the best acting to contend against. Crabb Robinson, 
one of Lamb's more recent friends, accompanied the broth- 
er and sister to the first and only performance, and received 
the impression that the audience resented the vulgarity of 
the name, when it was at last revealed, rather than the 
flimsiness of the plot. But the latter is quite sufiicient to 
account for what happened. The curtain fell amid a storm 
of hisses, in which Lamb is said to have taken a conspicu- 
ous share. Indeed, his genuine critical faculty must have 
come to his deliverance when he thus viewed his own work 
from the position of an outsider. He expresses no sur- 
prise at the result, after the first few utterances of natural 
disappointment. The mortification must have been con- 
siderable. The brother and sister had looked forward to a 
success. They sorely needed the money it might have 
brought them, and Charles' deep-seated love of all things 
dramatic made success in that field a much cherished hope. 
But he bore his failure, as he bore all his disappointments 
in life, with a cheerful sweetness. He writes to Hazlitt : 
" Mary is a little cut at the ill-success of Mr. H., which 
came out last night and failed. I know you'll be sorry, 
but never mind. We are determined not to be cast down. 
I am going to leave ofi tobacco, and then we must thrive. 
A smoky man must write smoky farces." It must be ad- 
mitted that Mr. H. is not much better in reading than it 
was found in the acting. Its humour, consisting largely of 
puns and other verbal pleasantries, exhibits little or noth- 
ing of Lamb's native vein, and the dialogue is too often la- 
boriously imitated from the conventional comedy-dialogue 


then in vogue. But even had this been different, the lac 
of constructive ability already shown in John Woodv 
must have made success as a writer for the stage quil 
beyond his reach. 

He was on safer ground, though not perhaps working. s 
thoroughly con amore, in another literary enterprise of tb 
time. In 1805 he had made the acquaintance of Williai 
Hazlitt, and Hazlitt had introduced him to William Go( 
win. Godwin had started, as his latest venture, a serii 
of books for children, to which he himself contributed ui 
der the name of Edward Baldwin. Lamb, writing to h 
friend Manning, in May, 1806, thus describes a joint tas 
in which he and his sister were engaged in connexion wit 
this scheme : " She is doing for Godwin's bookseller twei 
ty of Shakspeare's plays, to be made into children's tale 
Six are already done by her, to wit. The Tempest, Winter 
Tale, Midsummer Night, Much Ado, Two Gentlemen q 
Verona, and Cymheline ; and the Merchant of Venice is i 
forwardness. I have done Othello and Macbeth, and mea 
to do all the tragedies. I think it will be popular amor 
the little people, besides money. It's to bring in sixt 
guineas. Mary has done them capitally, I think you' 
think." Mary herself supplements this account in a wa 
that makes curiously vivid to us the homely realities ( 
their joint life. She writes about the same time : " Charh 
has written Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, and has begu 
Hamlet. You would like to see us, as we often sit wri 
ing on one table (but not on one cushion sitting), like He 
mia and Helena, in the Midsummer Night'' s Bream; c 
rather like an old literary Darby and Joan, I taking snul 
and he groaning all the while, and saying he can mal 
nothing of it, which he always says till he has finished, an 
then he finds out he has made something of it." Writin 

66 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

these Tales from Shakspeare was no doubt task-work to 
the brother and sister, but it was task-work on a congenial 
theme, and one for which they had special qualificaiions. 
They had, to start with, a profound and intimate acquaint- 
ance with their origina], which set them at an infinite dis- 
tance from the usual compilers of such books for children. 
They had, moreover, command of a style, Wordsworthian 
in its simplicity and purity, that enabled them to write 
down to the level of a child's understanding, without any 
appearance of condescension. The very homeliness of the 
style may easily divert attention from the rare critical fac- 
ulty, the fine analysis of character, that marks the writers' 
treatment of the several plays. It is no wonder that the 
publisher in announcing a subsequent edition was able to 
boast that a book designed for young children had been 
found suitable for those of more advanced age. There is, 
indeed, no better introduction to the study of Shakspeare 
than these Tales — no better initiation into the mind of 
Shakespeare, and into the subtleties of his language and 
rhythm. For the ear of both Charles and Mary Lamb had 
been trained on the cadences of Elizabethan English, and 
they were able throughout to weave the very words of 
Shakspeare into their narrative without producing any 
effect of discrepancy between the old and the new. 

The Tales were published in 1807, and were a success, 
a second edition appearing in the following year. One 
result of this success was a commission from Godwin to 
make another version of a great classic for the benefit of 
children, the story of the Odyssey. Lamb was no Greek 
scholar, but he had been, like Keats, stirred by the rough 
vigor of Chapman's translation. " Chapman is divine," he 
said afterwards to Bernard Barton, " and my abridgment 
has not quite emptied him of his divinity.'' And the few 


words of preface with wMch he modestly introduced his 
little book as a supplement to that well-known school 
classic the Adventures of Telemachus, shows that the moral 
value of this record of human vicissitude had moved him 
not less than the variety of the adventure. " The picture 
which he exhibits," he writes, "is that of a brave man 
struggling with adversity; by a wise use of events and 
with an inimitable presence of mind under difficulties, 
forcing out a way for himself through the severest trials 
to which human life can be exposed; with enemies natu- 
ral and supernatural surrounding him on all sides. The 
agents in this tale, besides men and women, are giants, 
enchanters, sirens ; things which denote external force or 
internal temptations, the tvfofold danger which a wise for- 
titude must expect to encounter in its course through 
this world." We cannot be wrong in judging that Charles 
Lamb had seen in this " wisdom of the ancients" an image 
of sirens and enchanters, of trials and disciplines, that be- 
set the lonely dweller at home not less surely than the 
wanderer from city to city, and had found therein some- 
thing of a cordial and a tonic for himself. ' No one felt 
more repugnance than did Lamb to the appending of a 
formal moral to a work of art, to use his own comparison, 
like the " God send the good ship safe into harbour " at 
the end of a bill of lading. But it was to be his special 
note as a critic that he could not keep his human compas- 
sion from blending with his judgment of every work of 
human imagination. If his strength as a critic was — and 
remains for us — as the " strength of ten," it was because 
his heart was pure. 

To what masterly purpose he had been long training 
this faculty of criticism he'was now about to show. The 
letter to Manning, which tells of his Adventures of Ulysses, 

68 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

announces a more important undertaking — apparently a 
commission from the firm of Longman — Specimens of 
English Dramatic Poets contemporary with Shakspeare. 
" Specimens," he writes, " are becoming fashionable. We 
have Specimens of Ancient English Poets, Specimens of 
Modern English Poets, Specimens of Ancient English Prose 
Writers, without end. They used to be called ' Beauties.' 
You have seen Beauties of Shakspeare? so have many 
people that never saw any beauties in Shakspeare." But 
Lamb's method was to have little in common with that of 
the unfortunate Dr. Dodd. " It is to have notes," is the 
brief mention of that feature of the collection which was 
at once to place their author in the first rank of critics. 
The commentary, often extending to no more than a dozen 
or twenty lines appended to each scene, or each author 
chosen for illustration, was of a kind new to a generation 
accustomed to the Variorum school of annotator. It con- 
tains no philology, no antiquarianism, no discussion of 
difficult or corrupt passages. It takes its cbaracter from 
the principle set forth in the Preface on which the selec- 
tion of scenes is made : 

" The kind of extracts which I have sought after hare been, not so 
much passages of wit and humour — though the old plays are rich in 
such — as scenes of passion, sometimes of the deepest quality, inter- 
esting situations, serious descriptions, that which is more nearly al- 
lied to poetry than to wit, and to tragic rather than comic poetry. 
The plays which I have made choice of have been with few ex- 
ceptions those which treat of human life and manners, rather than 
masques and Arcadian pastorals, with their train of abstractions, 
unimpassioned deities, passionate mortals, Claius, and Medorus, and 
Amintas, and Amaryllis. My leading design has been to illustrate 
what may be called the moral sense of our ancestors. To show in 
what manner they felt when they placed themselves by the power 
of imagination in trying situations, in the conflicts of duty and pas- 
sion, or the strife of contending duties ; what sort of loves and enmi- 


ties theirs were ; how their griefs were tempered, and their fuU- 
swoln joys abated ; how much of Shakspeare shines in the great 
men his contemporaries, and how far in his divine mind and man- 
ners he surpassed them and all mankind." 

The very idea of the collection was a bold one. When 
we cast our eye over the list of now familiar names, Mar- 
lowe and Pcele, Marston, Chapman, Ford, and Webster, 
from whom Lamb chose his scenes, we must not forgot 
that he was pleading their merits before a public which 
knew them only as names, if it knew them at all. With 
the one exception of Shakspeare, the dramatists of the 
period, between " the middle of Elizabeth's reign and the 
close of the reign of Charles I.," were unknown to the 
general reader of the year 1808. Shakspeare, indeed, had 
a permanent stage-existence — that best of commentaries 
which fine acting supplies, to which Lamb himself had 
been from childhood so largely indebted. But for those 
who studied him in the closet there was no aid to his in- 
terpretation save such as was supplied by the very unillu- 
minating notes of Johnson or Malone. And this circum- 
stance must be taken into account if we would rightly 
estimate the genius of Lamb. As a critic he had no mas- 
ter — it might almost be said, no predecessor. He was the 
inventor of his own art. As the friend of Coleridge, he 
might have heard something of that school of dramatic 
criticism of which Lessing was the founder, but there is 
little trace of any such influence in Lamb's own critical 
method. And though, three years later, Coleridge was to 
make another contribution of value to the same cause, in 
the Lectures on Shakspeare delivered at the London Philo- 
sophical Society, it is likely that his obligations were at 
least as great to Lamb, as those of Lamb had ever been, in 
the same field, to Coleridge. 

70 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

The suggestion in the preface, already cited,- of Shak- 
speare as the representative dramatist, the standard by 
which his contemporaries must be content to be judged, 
is amply followed up in the notes, and gives a unity of its 
own to a collection so miscellaneous. I may refer, as ex- 
amples, to the masterly distinction drawn between the use 
made of the supernatural by Middleton in the Witch, and 
by Shakspeare in Macbeth, and again to the contrast in- 
dicated between the dirge in Webster's White Devil and 
the " ditty which reminds Ferdinand of his drowned fa- 
ther in the Tempest " — " as that is of the water, watery ; 
so is this of the earth, earthy. Both have that intenseness 
of feeling which seems to resolve itself into the elements 
which it contemplates" — a criticism which could only have 
been conceived by one who was himself a poet. How 
admirably, again, does he draw attention (in a note on the 
Merry Devil of Edmonton) to that feature of Shakspeare's 
genius which perhaps more than any other is forced upon 
the reader's mind as he turns from passage to passage in 
this collection : " This scene has much of Shakspeare's 
manner in the sweetness and good-naturedness of it. It 
seems written to make the reader happy. Few of our 
dramatists or novelists have attended enough to this. 
They torture and wound us abundantly. They are econ- 
omists only in delight." Nothing, again, can be more 
profound than his remark on the elaborate and ostenta- 
tious saintliness of Ordella (in Fletcher's Thierry and 
Theodoret). " Shakspeare had nothing of this contortion 
in his mind, none of that craving after romantic incidents, 
and flights of strained and improbable virtue, which I 
think always betray an imperfect moral sensibility." And 
yet though Lamb's fine judgment approved the fidelity to 
nature, and the artistic self-control, which he here empha- 


sises in his great model, it is clear that the audacious con- 
ceptions, both of character and situation, in which writers 
such as Ford and Tourneur indulged, had no small fasci- 
nation for him. As he recalled the dreary types of virtue, 
the " insipid levelling morality to which the modern stage 
is tied down," he turned with joy — as from a heated sa- 
loon into the fresh air — to the " vigorous passions," the 
" virtues clad in flesh and blood," with which the old 
dramatists presented him. And this joy in the present- 
ment of the naked human soul is felt throughout all his 
criticisms on the more terrible scenes of Shakspeare's suc- 
cessors. His " ears tingle," or his eyes fill, or his heart 
leaps within him, as Calantha dies of her broken heart, 
or Webster's Diichess yields slowly to the torture. Hence 
it is that Lamb's criticism as often takes the form of a 
study of human life as of the dramatist's art. And hence 
also the effect he often leaves of having indulged in praise 
too great for the occasion. There is, moreover, another 
reason for this last-named result, which was inseparable 
from Lamb's method. No two dramatists can be meas- 
ured by comparing passage with passage, scene with scene. 
Shakspeare and Marlowe cannot be compared or contrasted 
by setting the death of Edward H. side by side with that 
of Richard II. Drama must be put side by side with 
drama. Lamb does not indeed suggest, by anything that 
he says, that the rank of a dramatist can be decided by 
passages or extracts. Only it did not enter into his scheme 
to dwell upon that supreme art of construction, and that 
highest gift of characterization, which are needed to 
make the perfect dramatist. In " profoundness of sing-le 
thoughts," in "richness of imagery," in "abundance of 
illustration," he could produce passage after passage from 
Shakspeare's contemporaries that evinced genius nearly al- 

72 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. iv. 

lied to Shakspeai-e's ; but of that " fundamental excellence" 
which " distinguishes the artist from the mere amateur, 
that power of execution which creates, forms, and consti- 
tutes," it was not possible for him to supply example. 
And this reservation the student must be prepared to 
make, who would approach the study of the Elizabethan 
Drama by the aid of Charles Lamb's specimens. 

But, whatever qualification must be interposed, it is 
certain that the publication of these extracts, and the ac- 
companying commentary, has a well-defined place in the 
poetical renascence that marked the early years of this 
century. The revived study of the old English drama- 
tists — other than Shakspeare — dates from this publica- 
tion. Coleridge had not yet begun to lecture, nor Hazlitt 
to write, and it was not till some twenty years later that 
Mr. Dyce began his different, but not less important, la- 
bours in the same field. To Lamb must be allowed the 
credit of having first recalled attention to a range of poet- 
ical excellence, in forgetfulness of which English poetry 
had too long pined and starved. It was to these moun- 
tain-heights of inspiration — not to the cultivated lowlands 
of the eighteenth century — that Poetry was to turn her 
eyes for help. 




Talfotjrd made the acquaintance of Charles Lamb early, 
in the year 1815, and has recorded the impression left 
by his appearance and manner at that time in words 
which at this stage of onr memoir it may be convenient 
to quote. Lamb has been fortunate in his verbal de- 
scribers, if not in the attempts of the painter's art to con- 
vey a true idea of his outward man. Leigh Hunt has de- 
clared that "there never was a true portrait of Lamb" — 
and those who talce the trouble to examine in succession 
the half-dozen portraits that are in existence are obliged 
to admit that it is difficult to derive from them any con- 
sistent idea of his features and expression. But it so hap- 
pens that we have full-length portraits of him drawn by 
other hands, which more than compensate for this want. 
Poets, critics, and humourists, of kindred genius, have loft 
on record how Charles Lamb appeared to them ; and 
though the various accounts bear, as might be expected, 
the strong impress of their writers' individuality, and 
though each naturally gives most prominence to the traits 
that struck him most, the final impression left is one of 
agreement, in remarkable degree. We have descriptions 
of Lamb, all possessing points of great interest, by Tal- 


fourd, Procter, Hood, Patmore, and others, and from these 
it is possible to learn how their subject looked and spoke 
and bore himself, with a precision and vividness that we 
are seldom in such cases allowed to enjoy. I have the ad- 
vantage of being able to confirm their accounts by the 
testimony of a living witness. Mr. James Crossley, of 
Manchester, has related to me his recollections of more 
than one interview which he had with Lamb, nearly sixty 
years ago, and has kindly allowed me to make use of 

Talfourd's reminiscence, committed to writing shortly 
after Lamb's death, if slightly idealized by his own poetic 
temperament, is not for that reason a less satisfactory 
basis on which to form a conception of Charles Lamb's 
appearance. "Methinks I see him before me now, as he 
appeared then, and as he continued with scarcely any per- 
ceptible alteration to me, during the twenty years of inti- 
macy which followed, and were closed by his death. A 
light frame, so fragile that it seemed as if a breath would 
overthrow it, clad in clerk-like black, was surmounted by 
a head of form and expression the most noble and sweet. 
His black hair curled crisply about an expanded forehead; 
his eyes, softly brown, twinkled with varying expression, 
though the prevalent feeling was sad; and the nose slight- 
ly curved, and delicately carved at the nostril, with the 
lower outline of the face regularly oval, completed a head 
which was finely placed on the shoulders, and gave im- 
portance and even dignity to a diminutive and shadowy 
stem. Who shall describe his countenance, catch its quiv- 
ering sweetness, and fix it for ever in words? There are 
none, alas, to answer the vain desire of friendship. Deep 
thought, striving with humour; the lines of suffering 
wreathed into cordial mirth ; and a smUe of painful sweet- 


ness, present an image to tlie mind it can as little describe 
as lose. His personal appearance and manner are not un- 
fitly characterized by what he himself says in one of hia 
letters to Manning, of Braham, ' a compound of the Jew, 
the gentleman, and the angel.' " 

From this tender and charming stetch it is instructive 
to turn to the rude etching on copper made by Mr. Brook 
Pulham from life, in the year 1825, which in the opinion 
of Lamb's biographers (and Mr. Crossley confirms their 
judgment) gives a better idea than all other existing por- 
traits of Charles Lamb's outward man. The small stature 
— he was very noticeably below the middle height — the 
head apparently out of proportion to the slender frame, 
the Jewish cast of nose, the long black hair, the figure 
dwindling away down to " almost immaterial legs," the 
tight-fitting clerk-like suit of black, terminating in gaiters 
and straps, all these appear in Mr. Pnlham's etching in 
such bold realism that the portrait might easily pass for 
a caricature, were it not confirmed in all its details by 
other authorities. Mr. Crossley recalls with perfect dis- 
tinctness the aspect of Lamb as he sat at his desk in his 
room at the India House, looking the more diminutive for 
being perched upon a very high stool. His hair and com- 
plexion were so dark, that when looked at in combination 
with the complete suit of solemn black, they suggested 
old Fuller's description of the negro, of which Lamb was 
so fond — an image " cut in ebony." He might have 
passed, Hood tells us, for a "Quaker in black." "He 
had a long melancholy face," says Mr. Procter, " with 
keen penetrating eyes." "There was altogether," Mr. 
Patinore says, "a Rabbinjcal look about Lamb's head 
which was at once striking and impressive." But the 
feature of his expression that all his friends dwell on with 

76 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

most loving emphasis is " tlie bland sweet smile, witli the 
touch of sadness in it ;" and Mr. Patmore's description of 
the general impression produced by this countenance well 
sums up and confirms the testimony of all other friends : 
" In point of intellectual character and expression, a finer 
face was never seen, nor one more fully, however vaguely 
corresponding with the mind whose features it interpreted. 
There was the gravity usually engendered by a life passed 
in book learning, without the slightest tinge of that as- 
sumption and affectation which almost always attend the 
gravity so engendered ; the intensity and elevation of gen- 
eral expression that mark high genius, without any of fts 
pretension and its oddity ; the sadness waiting on fruitless 
thoughts and baffled aspirations, but no evidence of that 
spirit of scorning and contempt which these are apt to 
engender. Above all there was a pervading sweetness and 
gentleness which went straight to the heart of every one 
who looked on it ; and not the less so, perhaps, that it 
bore about it an air, a something, seeming to tell that it 
was — not put on — for nothing would be more unjust than 
to tax Lamb with assuming anything, even a virtue, which 
he did not possess — but preserved and persevered in, spite 
of opposing and contradictory feelings within that strug- 
gled in vain for mastery. It was a thing to remind you 
of that painful smile which bodily disease and agony will 
sometimes put on, to conceal their sufferings from the ob- 
servation of those they love." 

We know Charles Lamb's history, and have not to ask 
for any explanation of the appearances thus described. He 
had always (it must not be forgotten) to contend against 
sad memories, and anticipations of further sorrow. He 
was by nature " terribly shy," and his difficulties of speech, 
and possibly a consciousness of oddity of manner and ap- 


pearance, aggravated this diffidence. It was "terrible" to 
him — as he confessed to Mr. Procter one morning when 
they were going together to breakfast with Rogers — to 
undergo the scrutiny of servants. Hence only at times, 
and in certain companies, was he entirely at his ease ; and 
it is evident that, when in the society of those in sympa- 
thy with him and his tastes, he conveyed an entirely dif- 
ferent impression of himself from that left under the op- 
posite circumstances. Before strangers, or uncongenial 
acquaintance, he was uncomfortable, and if not actually 
silent, generally indulged in some line of conversation or 
v«in of sentiment foreign to his own real nature. Like 
most men, Charles Lamb had various oddnesses, contradic- 
tions, perversenesses of temper, and unless he was in com- 
pany of those who loved him (and who he knew loved 
Lira), and understood him, he was very prone, in a spirit 
of what children call " contrariness," to set to work to 
alienate them still more from any possibility of sympathy 
with him. Something of this must of course be laid to 
the account of the extra glass of wine or spirits that so 
often determined his mood for the evening, only that 
when Procter, or Talfourd, or Coleridge, or Hazlitt were 
round his hospitable table, this stimulus served but to set 
free the richer and more generous springs of thought and 
fancy within him. I have the authority of Mr. Crossley 
for saying that on one evening when in manner, speech, 
and walk Lamb was obviously under the influence of what 
he had drunk, he discoursed at length upon Milton, with 
a fulness of knowledge, an eloquence, and a profundity 
of critical power, which left an impression upon Mr. Cross- 
ley never to be effaced. But we know that the wine was 
not in- this case the good, any more than on other occa- 
sions it was the evil, influence. " It created nothing," says 


Mr. Patmore, "but it was the talisman that not only un- 
locked the poor casket in which the rich thoughts of 
Charles Lamb were shut up, but set in motion that ma- 
chinery in the absence of which they would have lain like 
gems in the mountain or gold in the mine." But where 
the society was unsympathetic, the wine often set free less 
lovable springs of fancy in Charles Lamb. He would take 
up a perverse attitude of contradiction, with too slight re- 
gard for the courtesies of human intercourse, or else give 
play to a mere spirit of reckless and not very edifying mock- 
ery. The same enthusiastic friend and admirer just quoted 
is obliged to admit that " to those who did not know him, 
or knowing, did not and could not appreciate him. Lamb 
often passed for something between an imbecile, a brute, 
and a buffoon ; and the first impression he made on ordi- 
nary people was always unfavourable, sometimes to a vio- 
lent and repulsive degree." Many persons have of late 
been startled by the discovery that Lamb sometimes left 
the same impression upon people the reverse of ordinary. 
Nothing perhaps in the Keminiscences of Thomas Carlyle 
has provoked so much surprise, and hurt so many feelings, 
as his passing criticism upon Lamb. And yet it is entirely 
supported and explained by Mr. Patmore's observation. No 
two persons could have been more antipathetic than Lamb 
and Carlyle, and nothing therefore is less surprising than 
that to the anthor of the Latter-Day Pamphlets Charles 
and his sister should have appeared two very " sorry phe- 
nomena," or that the scraps of Lamb's talk which he over- 
heard during a passing call should often have seemed 
" contemptibly small," " ghastly make-believe of wit," and 
the rest. There is no need to question the substantial jus- 
tice of this report. It is only too probable that the pres- 
ence of the austere and dyspeptic Scotchman (one of that 


nation Lamb had all his days been trying in vain to like) 
made him more than usually disposed to produce his en- 
tire stock of frivolity. He had a perverse delight in shock- 
ing uncongenial society. Another noticeable person — very 
different in all respects from Carlyle — has left a record, 
significant by its very brevity, of his single interview with 
Lamb. Macready tells in his diary how he was asked to 
meet him at Talfourd's, and this is what he records of the 
interview : " I noted one odd saying of Lamb's, that ' the 
last breath he drew in he wished might be through a pipe, 
and exhaled in a pun.' " Lamb may have discovered at a 
glance that he and the great tragedian were not likely to 
take the same views of men and things. Perhaps his love 
both for joking and smoking had struck Macready the re- 
verse of favourably, and if so, it was quite in Lamb's way 
to clench once for all the unfavourable impression by such 
an " odd saying " as that just quoted. 

Charles Lamb has drawn for us a character of himself, 
but, so fond was he of hoaxes and mystifications of this 
kind, that we might have hesitated to accept it as faithful, 
were it not in such precise accord with the testimony of 
others already cited. The second series of the Essays of 
Elia was introduced by a preface, purporting to be writ- 
ten "by a friend of the late Elia,'' but of course from 
Charles' own hand. In this preface he assumes Elia to 
have actually died, and after some preliminary remarks on 
his writings thus proceeds to describe his character and 
manners : 

"My late friend was in many respects a singular character. 
Those who did not like him, hated him ; and some, who once liked 
him, afterwards became his bitterest haters. The truth is, he gave 
himself too little concern what he uttered, and^ whose presence. 
He observed neither time nor place, and would e'en out with what 

80 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

came uppermost. With the seTere religionist he would pass for a 
free-thinker ; while the other faction set him down for a bigot, or 
persuaded themselves that he belied his sentiments. Few under- 
stood him, and I am not certain that at all times he quite understood 
himself. He too much affected that dangerous figure — irony. He 
sowed doubtful speeches, and reaped plain unequivocal hatred. He 
would interrupt the gravest discussion with some light jest ; and yet, 
perhaps, not quite irrelevant in ears that could understand it. Tour 
long and much talkers hated him. The informal habit of his mind, 
joined to an inveterate impediment of speech, forbade him to be an 
orator ; and he seemed determined that no one else should play that 
part when he was present. He was petit and ordinary in his person 
and appearance. I have seen him sometimes in what is called good 
company, but where he has been a stranger, sit silent and be sus- 
pected for an odd fellow ; till some unlucky occasion provoking it, 
he would stutter out some senseless pun (not altogether senseless, 
perhaps, if rightly taken) which has stamped his character for the 
evening. It was hit or miss with him ; but nine times out of ten he 
contrived by this device to send away a whole company his enemies. 
His conceptions rose kindlier than his utterance, and his happiest 
impromptus had the appearance of effort. He has been accused of 
trying to be witty, when in truth he was but struggling to give his 
poor thoughts articulation. He chose his companions for some in- 
dividuality of character which they manifested. Hence not many 
persons of science, and few professed literati, were of his councils. 
They were, for the most part, persons of an uncertain fortune ; and 
as to such people commonly nothing is more obnoxious than u, gen- 
tleman of settled (though moderate) income, he passed with most of 
them for a great miser. To my knowledge this was a mistake. His 
intimados, to confess a truth, were in the world's eye a ragged regi- 
ment. He found them floating on the surface of society; and the 
colour, or something else, in the weed pleased him. The burrs stuck 
to him ; but they were good and loving burrs for all that. He never 
greatly cared for the society of what are called good people. If any 
of these were scandalized (and offences were sure to arise) he could 
not help it. When he has been remonstrated with for not making 
more concessions to the feelings of good people, he would retort by 
asking what one point did these good "people ever concede to him ? 
He was temperate in his meals and diversions, but always kept a 


little on this side of abstemiousness. Only in the use of the Indian 
weed he might be thought a little excessive. He took it, he would 
say, as a solvent of speech. Marry — as the friendly vapour ascend- 
ed, how his prattle would curl up sometimes with it ! the ligaments 
which tongue-tied him were loosened, and the stammerer proceeded a 
statist !" 

When a man's account of himself — his foibles and ec- 
centricities — is confirmed in minutest detail by those who 
knew and loved him best, it is reasonable to conclude that 
we are not far wrong in accepting it, and this self-por- 
traiture of Lamb's gives an unexpected plausibility to the 
judgments, which otherwise have a harsh sound, of Mr. 
Patmore and Carlyle. The peculiarities which Lamb here 
enumerates are just those which are little likely ever to 
receive gentle consideration from the world. 

Lamb's mention of the " senseless pun " which often 
" stamped his character for the evening,'' suggests oppor- 
tunely the subject of his reputation as a humourist and 
wit. This habit of playing upon words was a part of 
bim through life, and, as in the case of most who indulge 
in it, became an outlet for whatever mood was for the 
moment dominant in Charles Lamb's mind. When he 
was ill at ease, and in an attitude (as he often was) of an- 
tagonism to his company, it would take the shape of a 
wanton interruption of the argument under discussion. 
To use a simile of Mr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, it was the 
halfpenny laid upon the line by a mischievous boy to 
upset a whole train of cars. When he was annoyed, he 
made annoying puns; when he was frivolous, he made 
frivolous puns ; but when he was in the cue, and his sur- 
roundings were such as to call forth his better powers, he 
put into this form of wit humour and imagination of a 
high order. Samples of all these kinds have been pre- 

82 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

served, and are not without use as showing the various 
moods of his many-sided nature, but it is pitiable to read 
long strings of them, set down without any discrimination, 
and to be asked to accept thera as specimens of Lamb's 
" wit and humour." Many of his jests thus handed down 
are little more than amusing evidence of a restless levity, 
and almost petulant impatience of the restraints of serious 
discourse. Much of his conversational humour took the 
form of retort — courteous, or the reverse. Sometimes these 
embodied a criticism so luminous or acute that they have 
survived, not only for their drollery, or even their severity. 
" Charles, did you ever hear me preach ?" asked Coleridge, 
referring to the days of his Unitarian ministry. " I never 
heard you do anything else," was the reply. When Words- 
worth was discussing with him the degree of originality 
to be allowed to Shakspeare, as borrowing his plots from 
sources ready to his hand, and was even hinting that other 
poets, with the History of Hamhlet before them, might 
have been equally successful in adapting it to the stage, 
Charles cried out, " Oh ! here's Wordsworth says he could 
have written Hamlet, if he'd had the mind." In both 
these cases the retort embodies a felicitous judgment. A 
foible — if in either case it is to be called a foible — in the 
character of the two poets, respectively, flashes out into 
sudden light. The pun is more than a pun; the wit is 
more than wit ; it is a sudden glory of truth kindled by 
the imagination. Lamb's wide reading and memory give 
a peculiar flavour to much of his wit. He had a way of 
applying quotations which is all his own. When Crabb 
Robinson, then a new-fledged barrister, told him of his 
sensations on getting his first brief in the King's Bench, 
" I suppose," said Charles, " you said to it, ' Thou great 
First Cause, least understood.' " Somebody remarking on 


Shatspeare's anachronisms — clocks and watches in Julius 
Ccesar, oracles of Delphi in the Winter's Tale—h& said he 
supposed that was what Dr. Johnson meant when he wrote 
of him that "panting Time toiled after him in vain." 
" Hood records a visit paid by him to the Lambs when they 
were living at Islington, with a wasp's nest near their front 
door. " He was one day bantering my wife on her dread 
of wasps, when all at once he uttered a terrible shout — a 
wounded specimen of the species had slily crawled up the 
leg of the table, and stung him in the thumb. I told him 
it was a refutation well put in, like Smollett's timely snow- 
ball. ' Yes,' said he, ' and a stinging commentary on Mac- 

"'"By the pricking of my thumbs, 

Somethifig wicked this way comes." ' " 

Headers of the Essays of Elia will recall many happy 
effects produced by this novel use of familiar quotations. 
Not that he ever condescended to degrade a really fine 
passage by any vulgar associations. No great harm was 
done (in the "Essay on Eoast Pig") by calling in his 
friend's " Epitaph on an Infant " to justify the sacrifice 
of the innocent suckling, before it should " grow up to the 
grossness and indocility which too often accompany mar 
turer swinehood — 

" ' Ere sin could blight or sorrow fade 
Death came with timely care.' " 

And, now and then, with the true instinct of a poet, he 
throws a new and lasting halo over a homely object by 
associating it with one more poetic and dignified, as when 
in the " Praise of Chimney-sweepers " he notes the brill- 
iant white of the little climbing-boys' teeth peering from 
between their sooty lips. " It is," he adds — 

84 CHAKLES LAMB. [chap. 

" ' as when a sable cloud 
Turns forth her silver lining on the night,' " 

an application of Milton which is only not witty (to bor- 
row Sydney Smith's skilful distinction) because the en- 
joyment of its wit is overpowered by our admiration of 
its beauty. 

" Specimens of wit and humour " afford, under the hap- 
piest conditions, but melancholy reading, and none can 
less well afford to be separated from their context than 
those of Lamb. And in his case the context is not merely 
that of the written or spoken matter, but that of the man 
himself — ^his look, manner, and habits. To understand how 
his drollery affected those who were present, and made 
them anxious to preserve some record of it, it is necessary 
to keep in mind how he looked and spoke, his odd face, 
his stammer, and his wilfulness in the presence of uncon- 
genial natures. There is a diverting scene recorded in 
the diary of Haydon, the painter, which, however ampli- 
fied by Haydon's facile pen, seems to bring before us " an 
evening with Charles Lamb " with more reality than the 
general recollections of Talfourd and Procter. Something 
of the " diluted insanity " that so shocked Mr. Carlyle is 
here shadowed forth. Haydon had got up a little dinner, 
on occasion of Wordsworth being in town (December, 
1817), and Lamb and Keats were of the party. The ac- 
count must be given in his own words : 

" On December 28th the immortal dinner came off in my paint- 
ing-room, with Jerusalem towering up behind us as a background. 
Wordsworth was in fine cue, and we had a glorious set-to^-on Ho- 
mer, Shakspeare, Milton, and Virgil. Lamb got exceedingly merry, 
and exquisitely witty ; and his fun, in the midst of Wordsworth's 
solemn intonations of oratory, was like the sarcasm and wit of the 
Fool in the intervals of Lear's passion. He made a speech and voted 


me absent, and made them drink my health. 'Now,' said Lamb, 
'you old lake poet, you rascally poet, why do you call Voltaire 
dull ?' We all defended Wordsworth, and affirmed there was a state 
of mind when Voltaire would be dull. ' Well,' said Lamb, ' here's 
Voltaire — the Messiah of the French nation — and a very proper one, 

" He then in a, strain of humour beyond description abused me 
for putting Newton's head into my picture — ' a fellow,' said he, ' who 
believed nothing unless it was as clear as the three sides of a tri- 
angle.' And then he and Eeats agreed that he had destroyed all 
the poetry of the rainbow, by reducing it to the prismatic colours. 
It was impossible to resist him, and we all drank ' Newton's health, 
and confusion to mathematics.' It was delightful to see the good- 
humour of Wordsworth in giving in to all our frolics without affec- 
tation, and laughing as heartily as the best of us. 

" By this time other friends joined, amongst them poor Ritchie, 
who was going to penetrate by Fezzan to Timbuctoo. I introduced 
him to all as ' a gentleman going to Africa.' Lamb seemed to take 
no notice ; but all of a sudden he roared out, ' Which is the gentle- 
man we are going to lose?' We thea drank the victim's health, 
in which Ritchie joined. 

" In the morning of this delightful day, a, gentleman, a perfect 
stranger, had called on me. He said he knew my friends, had an 
enthusiasm for Wordsworth, and begged I would procure him the 
happiness of an introduction. He told rae he was a Gomptroiler of 
Stamps, and often had correspondence with the poet. I thought it 
a liberty ; but still, as he seemed a gentleman, I told him he might 

, " When we retired to tea we found the Comptroller. In introduc- 
ing him to Wordsworth I forgot to say who he was. After a little 
time the Comptroller looked down, looked up, and said to Words- 
worth, ' Don't you think, sir, Milton was a great genius ?' Keats 
looked at me, WordWrorth looked at the Comptroller. Lamb, who 
was dozing by the fire, turned round and said, * Pray, sir, did you say 
Milton was a great genius ?' ' No, sir ; I asked Mr. Wordsworth if he 
were not.' ' Oh,' said Lamb, ' then you are a silly fellow.' ' Charles ! 
my dear Charles !' said Wordsworth. But Lamb, perfectly innocent 
of the confusion he had created, was off again by the fire. 

"After an awful pause the Comptroller said, 'Don't you think 

86 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

Newton a great genius ?' I could not stand it any longer. Keata 
put his head into my books. Ritchie squeezed in a laugh. Words- 
worth seemed asliing himself, ' Who is this ?' Lamb got up and, 
taking a candle, said, ' Sir, will you allow me to look at your phreno- 
logical development?' He then turned his back on the poor man, 
and at eyery question of the Comptroller he chanted — 

" ' " Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John 
Went to bed with his breeches on." ' 

The man in office finding Wordsworth did not know who he was, 
said in a spasmodic and half-chuckling anticipation of assured vic- 
tory, ' I have had the honour of some correspondence with you, Mr. 
Wordsworth.' ' With me, sir ?' said Wordsworth, • not that I remem- 
ber.' ' Don't you, sir ? I am a Comptroller of Stamps.' There was 
a dead silence ; the Comptroller evidently thinking that was enough. 
While we were waiting for Wordsworth's reply. Lamb sung out — 

"'"Hey diddle diddle. 

The cat and the fiddle.'" 

'My dear Charles !' said Wordsworth. 

" ' " Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John," ' 

chanted Lamb ; and then rising, exclaimed, ' Do let me have another 
look at that gentleman's organs.' Eeats and I hurried Lamb into 
the painting-room, shut the door, and gave way to inextinguishable 
laughter. Monkhouse followed and tried to get Lamb away. We 
went back, but the Comptroller was irreconcilable. We soothed and 
smiled, and asked him to supper. He stayed, though his dignity was 
sorely affected. However, being a good-natured man, we parted all 
in good-humour, and no ill effects followed. 

" All the while, until Monkhouse succeeded, we could hear Lamb 
struggling in the painting -room and calling at intervals, 'Who is 
that fellow ? Allow me to see his organs once more.* " 

It is not difficult to guess how Carlyle or Macready 
would have commented on this scene, had they been 

But the Wednesday evenings when Charles and Mary 


Lamb kept open house — if the term could be applied to 
the slender resources of the garret in Inner Temple Lane 
— produced something better in the way of intellectual re- 
sult than the above. Talfourd and Procter have told us 
the names and qualities of the guests who gathered about 
the Lambs on these occasions, and the homely fare and 
the cordial greeting that awaited them — the low, dingy 
rooms, with books and prints for their chief furniture, the 
two tables set out for whist, and the cold beef and can of 
porter on the sideboard, to which each guest helped him- 
self as he chose. On these occasions would be found 
Wordsworth and Coleridge when in town, and then the 
company resolved themselves willingly into a band of 
contented listeners ; but at other times no difference of 
rank would be recognized, and poets and critics, painters, 
journalists, barristers, men in public offices, dramatists, and 
actors met on terms of unchallenged equality. Hazlitt 
has made an attempt, in a well-known essay, to reproduce 
an actual conversation at which he was present on one of 
these Wednesdays. He admits that, writing twenty years 
after the event, memory was ill able to recall the actual 
words of the speakers. But even when allowance is made 
for the lapse of time, it is hard to believe that Hazlitt had 
much of the Boswellian faculty. The subject that had 
been discussed was "Persons one would wish to have 
seen." Isaac Newton and Locke, Shakspeare and Mil- 
ton, and many others, were suggested, and all dismissed 
for one reason or another by Lamb. Sir Thomas Browne 
and Fulke Greville were two he substituted for these. 
But it is impossible to accept the following sentence as a 
sample of Lamb's conversational manner : " When I look 
at that obscure but gorgeous prose composition, the Urn 
Burial, I seem to myself to look into a deep abyss, at 

88 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

the bottom of which are hid pearls and rich treasure ; or, 
it is like a stately labyrinth of doubt and withering spec- 
ulation, and I would invoke the spirit of the author to 
lead rae through it." This style is equally unlike that of 
essay and letter, and nothing so pointless and so grandi- 
ose, we are sure, ever proceeded from his lips. It was 
not so that Lamb, as Haydon expressed it, " stuttered out 
his quaintness in snatches, like the Fool in Lear." But 
we can distinguish that stammering tongue, if we listen, 
above the din of the supper party and the whist-table — 
{not rigorous as Mrs. Battle's) — ranging from the maddest 
drollery to the subtlest criticism, calling out to Martin 
Burney, "Martin, if dirt were trumps, what a hand you'd 
have !" — or declaring that he had once known a young 
man who "wanted to be a tailor, but hadn't the spirit" — 
or pronouncing, a propos of the water-cure, that it was 
neither new nor wonderful, for that it was at least as old 
as the Flood, when, " in his opinion," it killed more than 
it cured. We can hear him drawing some sound distinc- 
tion, as between the ingrained jealousy of Leontes and the 
mere credulity of Othello, or contrasting the noble sim- 
plicity of the Nut-Brown Maid with Prior's vapid para- 
phrase, in Henry and Emma. We can listen to him as 
he fearlessly decried all his friends' idols of the hour, By- 
ron or Shelley or Goethe, and raved with something of a 
perverse enthusiasm over some forgotten worthy of the 
sixteenth century. We can hear him pleading for the 
" divine compliments " of Pope, and repeating, with a fal- 
tering voice, the well-known lines : 

" Happy my studies, when by these approved 1 
Happier their author, when by these beloved ! 
From these the world will judge of men and books, 
Not from the Burnets, Oldmixons, and Cookes." 


It was this range of sympathy, yet coupled with such 
strange limitations — this alternation of tenderness and 
frolic — of scholarly fulness and luminous insight, that 
drew the poet and the critic, as well as the boon com- 
panion, to Lamb's Wednesday nights. 

Lamb's letters at this time afiord excellent specimens of 
his drollery and high animal spirits. The following was 
addressed to Manning early in 1810. Manning was then 
in China : 

"Dear Manning, — When I last wrote you I was in lodgings. I 
am now in chambers, No. 4, Inner Temple Lane, where I should be 
happy to see you any evening. Bring any of your friends, the man- 
darins, with you. I have two sitting-rooms ; I call them so par ex- 
cellence, for you may stand, or loll, or lean, or try any posture in them, 
but they are best for sitting ; not squatting down Japanese fashion, 
but the more decorous mode which European usage has consecrated. 
I have two of these rooms on the third floor, and five sleeping, cook- 
ing, &e., rooms on the fourth floor. In my best room is a choice col- 
lection of the works of Hogarth, an English painter of some humour. 
In my next best are shelves, containing a small but well-chosen li- 
brary. My best room commands a court in which there are trees and 
a pump, the water of which is excellent cold, with brandy, and not 
very insipid without. Here I hope to set up my rest, and not quit 
till Mr. Powell, the undertaker, gives me notice that I may have pos- 
session of my last lodging. He lets lodgings for single gentlemen. 
I sent you a parcel of books by my last, to give you some idea of the 
state of European literature. There comes with this two volumes, 
done up as letters, of minor poetry, a sequel to Mrs. Leicester; the 
best you may suppose mine ; the next best are my coadjutor's ; you 
may amuse yourself in guessing them out ; but I must tell you mine 
are but one-third in quantity of the whole. So much for a very deli- 
cate subject. It is hard to speak of one's own self, &c. Holcroft 
had finished his life when I wrote to you, and Hazlitt has since fin- 
ished his life : I do not mean his own life, but he has finished a life 
of Holcroft, which is going to press. Tuthill is Dr. Tuthill ; I con- 
tinue Mr. Lamb. I have published a little book for children on titles 

90 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

of honour ; and to give them some idea of the difference of rank and 
gradual rising I have made a little scale, supposing myself to recelre 
the following various accessions of dignity from the liing, who is the 
fountain of honour. As the first, 1, Mr. C. Lamb ; 2, C. Lamb, Esq. ; 
3, Sir C. Lamb, Bart. ; 4, Baron Lamb of Stamford' ; 5, Viscount 
Lamb ; 6, Earl Lamb ; 7, Marquis Lamb ; 8, Duke Lamb. It would 
look like quibbling to carry it on further, and especially as it is not 
necessary for children to go beyond the ordinary titles of sub-regal 
dignity in our own country; otherwise, I have sometimes in my 
dreams imagined myself still advancing — as 9th, King Lamb; 10th, 
Emperor Lamb; 11th, Pope Innocent, higher than which is nothing. 
Puns I have not made many (nor punch much) since the date of my 
last ; one I cannot help relating. A constable in Salisbury Cathedral 
was telling me that eight people dined at the top of the spire of the 
cathedral, upon which I remarked that they must be very sharp set. 
But in general, I cultivate the reasoning part of my mind more than 
the imaginative. I am stuffed out so with eating turkey for dinner 
and another turkey for supper yesterday (Turkey in Europe and Tur- 
key in Asia), that I can't jog on. It is New Year here. That is, it 
was New Year half a year back when I was writing this. Nothing 
puzzles me more than time and space, and ,yet nothing puzzles me 
less, for I never think about them. The Persian ambassador is the 
principal thing talked of now. I sent some people to see him wor- 
ship the sun on Primrose Hill, at half-past six in the morning, 28th 
November; but he did not come, which makes me think the old fire- 
worshippers are a sect almost extinct in Persia. The Persian am- 
bassador's name is Shaw All Mirza. The common people call him 
Shaw nonsense. While I think of it, I have put three letters besides 
my own three into the India post for you, from your brother, sister, 
and some gentleman whose name I forget. Will they, have they, did 
they come safe ? The distance you are at cuts up tenses by the root. 
I think you said you did not know Kate ********* I express 
her by nine stars, though she is but one. You must have seen her at 
her father's. Try and remember her. Coleridge is bringing out a 
paper in weekly numbers, called the Fi'iend, which I would send if I 
could ; but the difficulty I had in getting the packets of books out to 

• " Where my family came from, I have chosen that, if ever I 
should have my choice." 


you before deters me ; and you'll want something new to read when 
you come home. Except Kate, I have had no vision of excellence 
this year, and she passed by like the queen on her coronation day ; 
you don't know whether you saw her or not. Kate is fifteen ; I go 
about moping, and sing the old pathetic ballad I used to like in my 
youth — 

" ' She's sweet fifteen, 
I'm one year more.' 

Mrs. Bland sang it in boy's clothes the first time I heard it. I some- 
times think the lower notes in my voice are like Mrs. Bland's. That 
glorious singer, Braham, one of my lights, is fled. He was for a sea- 
son. He was a rare composition of the Jew, the gentleman, and the 
angel ; yet all these elements mixed up so kindly in him that you 
could not tell which preponderated ; but he is gone, and one Phillips 

is engaged instead. Kate is vanished, but Miss B is always to 

be met with ! 

" ' Queens drop away, while blue-legged maukUi thrives. 
And courtly Mildred dies while country Madge survives.' 

That is not my poetry, but Quarles' ; but haven't you observed that 
the rarest things are the least obvious ? Don't show anybody the 
names in this letter. I write confidentially, and wish this letter to 
be considered as private. Hazlitt has written a grammar for God- 
win ; Godwin sells it bound up with a treatise of his own on lan- 
guage, but the ffrm/ mare is the better horse. I don't allude to 

Mrs. , but to the word grammar, which comes near to grey 

mare, if you observe, in sound. That figure is called paranomasia in 
Greek. I am sometimes happy in it. An old woman begged of me 
for charity. 'Ah! sir,' said she, 'I have seen better days.' 'So 
have I, good woman,' I replied ; but I meant literally, days not so 
rainy and overcast as that on which she begged ; she meant more 
prosperous days. Mr. Dawe is made Associate of the Eoyal Academy. 
By what law of association I can't guess." 

The humour of this letter — and there are many as good 
— is not the humour of the Essays of Elia. It is not 
charged with thought like them, nor does it reach the same 
depths of feeling. But it is the humour of a man of gen- 

92 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

ins. The inventiveness of it all ; the simplicity with which 
the most daring flights of fancy are hazarded ; the amazing 
improbability of the assertion that it was the " common 
people" who called the ambassador " Shaw nonsense ;'' the 
gravity with which it is set down that it is not necessary 
in England to teach children the degrees of rank beyond 
royalty — all this is delightful in the extreme, and the power 
to enjoy it may be taken as a test of the reader's capacity 
for understanding Lamb's place as a humourist. 

The eight years spent in Inner Temple Lane were, in 
Talfourd's judgment, the happiest of Lamb's life. His in- 
come was steadily rising, and he no longer had to bear the 
pressure of inconvenient poverty. Friends of a higher or- 
der than the " friendly harpies " he has told us of, who 
came about him for his suppers, and the brandy-and-water 
afterwards, were gradually gathering round him. Hazlitt, 
and Crabb Robinson, and Procter, and Talfourd were men 
of tastes and capacities akin to his own. The period was 
not a fertile one in literary production. The little collec- 
tion of stories for children, called Mrs. Leicester's School, 
written jointly with his sister, and the volume of Poetry 
for Children, also a joint production, constitute — with one 
notable exception — the whole of Lamb's literary labours 
during this time. The exception named is the contribu- 
tion to Leigh Hunt's periodical, the Reflector, of two or 
three masterly pieces of criticism, which may be more con- 
veniently noticed later in this memoir. 

Meantime the cloud of domestic anxiety was still unlift- 
ed. Mary Lamb's illnesses were frequent and embarrass- 
ing. An extract fr6m a letter to Miss Hutchinson, Mrs. 
Wordsworth's sister (October, 1815), tells once more the 
often-told tale, and shows the unaltered patience and seri- 
ousness of her brother's faithful guardianship. The pass- 


age has a further interest in the picture it incidentally 
draws of the happier days of the brother and sister : " I 
am forced to be the replier to your letter, for Mary has 
been ill, and gone from home these five weeks yesterday. 
She has left me very lonely and very miserable. I stroll 
about, but there is no rest but at one's own fireside, and 
there is no rest for me there now. I look forward to the 
worse half being past, and keep up as well as I can. She 
has begun to show some favourable symptoms. The re- 
turn of her disorder has been frightfully soon this time, 
with scarce a six months' interval. I am almost afraid my 
worry of spirits about the East India House was partly the 
cause of her illness, but one always imputes it to the cause 
next at hand ; more probably it comes from some cause we 
have no control over or conjecture ofi It cuts great slices 
out of the time, the little time, we shall have to live to- 
gether. I don't know but the recurrence of these illnesses 
might help me to sustain her death better than if we had 
no partial separations. But I won't talk of death. I will 
imagine us immortal, or forget that we are otherwise. By 
God's blessing, in a few weeks we may be making our meal 
together, or sitting in the front row of the Pit at Drury 
Lane, or talcing our evening walk past the theatres, to look 
at the outside of them, at least, if not to be tempted in. 
Then we forget that we are assailable ; we are strong for 
the time as rocks; — 'the wind is tempered to the shorn 
Lambs.' " 





In the autumn of 181 7 Lamb and his sister left the Tem- 
ple, their home for seventeen years, for lodgings in Great 
Russell Street, Covent Garden, the corner of Bow Street, 
and the site where Will's Cofiee-house once stood. " Here 
we are," Lamb writes to Miss Wordsworth in November of 
this year, " transplanted from our native soil. I thought 
we never could have been torn up from the Temple. In- 
deed it was an ugly wrench, but like a tooth, now 'tis out, 
and I am easy. We never can strike root so deep in any 
other ground. This, where we are, is a light bit of gar- 
dener's mould, and if they take us up from it, it will cost 
no blood and groans, like mandrakes pulled up. We are 
in the individual spot I like best in all this great city. The 
theatres with all their noises; Covent Garden, dearer to me 
than any gardens of Alcinous, where we are morally sure 
of the earliest peas and 'sparagus. Bow Street, where the 
thieves are examined within a few yards of us. Mary had 
not been here four-and4wenty hours before she saw a thief. 
Slje sits at the window working ; and casually throwing 
out her eyes, she sees a concourse of people coming this 


way, with a constable to conduct the solemnity. These 
little incidents agreeably diversify a female life." 

During the seventeen years in the Temple Lamb's world- 
ly fortunes had improved. His salary from the India 
House was increasing every year, and he was beginning to 
add to his income by authorship. He was already known 
as critic and essayist to an appreciative few. Friends 
were gathering round him, and acquaintances who enjoyed 
his conversation and his weekly suppers (Wednesday even- 
ing was open house in the Temple days) were increasing in 
rather an embarrassing degree. Ever since he had had a 
house of his own, he had sufiEered from the intrusion of 
such troublesome visitors. A too easy good-nature on his 
part may have been to blame for this. He took often, as 
he confesses, a perverse pleasure in noticing and befriend- 
ing those whom others, with good reason, looked shyly on, 
and as time went on he began to find very little of his 
leisure time that he could call his own. It may have been 
with some hope of beginning a freer life on new soil that 
he resolved to tear himself from his beloved Temple. 
If so he was not successful. A remarkable letter to Mrs. 
Wordsworth, a few months only after his removal to Rus- 
sell Street, tells the same old story of well-meaning intrud- 
ers. "The reason why I cannot write letters at home is 
that I am never alone." " Except my morning's walk to 
the oflBce, which is like treading on sands of gold for that 
reason, I am never so, I cannot walk home from office, 
but some officious friend ofEers his unwelcome courtesies 
to accompany me. All the morning I am pestered. Even- 
ing company I should always like, had I any mornings, 
but I am saturated with human faces {divine forsooth), 
and voices all the golden morning ; and five evenings in a 
week would be as much as I should covet to be in com- 

96 CHARLES LAMB. [chaf. 

pany, but I assure you that it is a wonderful weet in which 
I can get two, or one to myself. I am never C. L., but al- 
ways C. L. & Co. He, who thought it not good for man 
to be alone, preserve me from the more prodigious mon- 
strosity of being never by myself." " All I mean is that 
I am a little over-companied, but not that I have any ani- 
mosity against the good creatures that are so anxious to 
drive away the harpy solitude from me. I like 'era, and 
cards, and a cheerful glass; but I mean merely to give you 
an idea, between oflBce confinement and after-office society, 
how little time I can call my own." It is not difficult to 
form an idea from this frank disclosure, of the hindrances 
and the snares that beset Lamb's comfort and acted harm- 
fully on his temper and habits. It was fortunate for him 
that at this juncture he should have been led to discover 
where his powers as a writer indisputably lay, and to find 
the exact opportunity for their exercise. 

In this same year, 1818, a young bookseller, Charles 
Oilier, whose acquaintance he had recently made, proposed 
to him to bring out a complete collection of his scattered 
writings. Some of these, John Woodvil and Bosamund 
Gray, had been published separately in former years, and 
were now out of print. Others were interred among ex- 
tinct magazines and journals, and these were by far the 
most worthy of preservation. The edition appeared in 
tlie year 1818, in two handsome volumes. It contained, 
besides John Woodvil and Rosamund Gray, and a fair 
quantity of verse (including the Farewell to Tobacco), the 
Recollections of Chrises Hospital, the essay on The Trage- 
dies of Shakspeare, considered with reference to their fitness 
for staffs representation, and that on The Genius and Char- 
acter of Hogarth, these two last having originally appeared 
in Leigh Hunt's magazine, the Reflector. The edition was 


prefaced by a dedicatory letter to Coleridge. " You will 
smile," wrote Lamb, "to see the slender labours of your 
friend designated by the title of Works; but such was the 
•wish of the gentlemen who had kindly undertaken the 
trouble of collecting them, and from their judgment there 
could be no appeal." He goes on pleasantly to recall to 
his old school-fellow how, in company with their friend 
Lloyd, they had so many years before tried their poetical 
fortune. " You will find your old associate," he adds, " in 
his second volume, dwindled into prose and criticism." 
Lamb must have felt, as he wrote the word, that " dwin- 
dled " was hardly the fitting term. He had written noth- 
ing as yet so noble in matter and in style, nothing so 
worthy to live, as the analysis of the characters of Hamlet 
and Lear in the essay on Shakspeare's Tragedies. Lamb's 
high rank, as essayist and critic, must have been put be- 
yond dispute by the publication under his own name of 
his collected Worhs. He was already well known and ap'. 
predated by some of the finest minds of his day. He now 
addressed a wider public, and the edition of 1818 gave him 
a status he had not- before enjoyed. And yet at this date, 
various as were the contents of the two volumes, he had 
not found the opportunity that was to call forth his spe- 
cial faculty. 

The opportunity was, however, at hand. In January, 
1820, Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, the publishers, brought 
out the first number of a new monthly journal, reviving in 
it the name of an earlier, and extinct periodical, the London 
Magazine. The editor they chose was John Scott, a com- 
petent critic and journalist who had formerly edited the 
Champion newspaper. The aim of this new venture, as 
set forth in the opening prospectus, was to be of a higher 
and more intellectual class than its many popular contem- 

98 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

poraries. It was to be a journal of criticism and the 
Belles Lettres, including original poetry, and yet to contain 
in a monthly appendix such statistics of trade and general 
home and foreign intelligence as would make it useful to 
those of a less literary turn. The magazine had an exist- 
ence of five years, undergoing many changes of fortune, 
and passing in that time through many hands. Its first 
editor, Mr. Scott, was killed in a duel in the summer of 
1821, and its first publishers parted with it to Taylor and 
Hessey. At no period of its career does it seem to have 
been a marked commercial success. Either capital was 
wanted, or management was unsatisfactory, for the list of 
contributors during these five years was remarkable. Mr. 
Procter and Hood have discoursed pleasantly on their va- 
rious fellow-contributors to the magazine, and the social 
gatherings held once a month by Taylor and Hessey (who 
employed no editor) at the office in Waterloo Place. 
Hazlitt, Allan Cunningham, Gary (the translator of Dante), 
John Hamilton Reynolds, George Darley, Keats, James 
Montgomery, Sir John Bowring, Hartley Coleridge, were 
regular or occasional contributors. Carlyle published his 
lA/e and Writings of Schiller in the later volumes, and 
De Quincey (besides other papers) his Opium-eater. 

Talfourd thinks that Lamb owed to his intimacy with 
Hazlitt his introduction to the managers of the London. 
He was not on the stafE from the beginning. The first 
number was issued in January, 1820, and Lamb's first con- 
tribution was in the August following. In the number 
for that month appeared an article, with the not very at- 
tractive title. Recollections of the South Sea House. As 
to its authorship there was no indication except the signa- 
ture at the end — "Elia." Lamb has himself told us the 
origin of this immortal nom de plume. When he had 


written his first essay, wishing to remain anonymous, and 
yet wanting a convenient mark for identification in articles 
to come, he bethought him of an Italian of the name of 
Elia, who had been fellow -clerk with him thirty years 
before, during the few months that he had been employed 
as a boy in the South Sea House. As a practical joke 
(Lamb confesses) he borrowed his old friead's name, 
hoping to make his excuses when they should next meet. 
" I went the other day," writes Lamb in June, 1821, " (not 
having seen him for a year) to laugh over with him at 
my usurpation of his name, and found him, alas! no 
more than a name, for he died of consumption eleven 
months ago, and I knew not of it. So the name has fair- 
ly devolved to me, I think, and 'tis all he has left me." 
Lamb continued to use it for his contributions to the 
London and other periodicals for many years. It is doubt- 
ful if the name has ever been generally pronounced as 
Lamb intended. "Call him Ellia," he wrote to his pub- 
lisher, Mr. Taylor, but the world has taken more kindly to 
the broad e and the single 1. 

When the first series of the Essays of Elia appeared in 
a collected form in 1823, it consisted of some five-and- 
twenty essays, contributed at the rate of one a month (oc- 
casionally two) with scarcely an intermission between Au- 
gust, 1820, and December, 1822. It would seem as if no • 
conditions had been imposed upon Lamb by the editor as 
to the subject-matter of his essays. He was allowed to 
roam at his own free-will over the experiences of his life, 
and to reproduce them in any form, and with any discur- 
siveness into which he might be allured on the way. The 
matter of the essays proved to be largely personal, or at 
least to savour of the autobiographical. The first essay 
already referred to professed to be a recollection of the 


Soutb Sea House as it existed thirty years before, with 
sketches of several of the clerks who had been Lamb's 
contemporaries. As, however, he was a boy of fifteen at 
the time he entered, and moreover was at most two years 
in the office, it is probable that he owed much of the 
knowledge exhibited in the paper to his elder brother 
John, who remained in the office long after Charles had 
left it. Lamb was in the habit of spending his short sum- 
mer holiday in one or other of the two great university 
towns, and his second essay was an account of Oxford in 
the Vacation. The third in order of appearance was an 
account of Christ's Hospital, on that side of it which had 
not been touched in his earlier paper on the same subject. 
The fourth was a discursive meditation on the Two Races 
of Men, by which Lamb meant those who borrow and those 
who lend, which he illustrated by the example of dne Kalph 
Bigod (wliom he had known in his journalist days on the 
Albion),a.'!\di Coleridge, who so freely borrowed from Lamb's 
library, and so bountifully returned the loan with interest 
in the shape of marginal annotations. In the essay, Mrx. 
Battlers Opinions on Whist, he describes an old lady, a 
relative of the Pluraer family, whom he had known in 
person, or by repute, at the old mansion in Hertfordshire. 
In the chapter On Ears, his own want of musical ear, and 
the kind of impressions from musical sounds to which he 
was susceptible, is the subject of his confidences. In My 
Relations, and MacTcery End in Hertfordshire he draws 
portraits, under the disguise of two cousins, James and 
Bridget Elia, of his brother John and his sister Mary. 
The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple comprises all that 
he remembered of his boyhood spent in the Temple, with 
particulars of the more notable Masters of the Bench of 
that day, obtained no doubt from his father, the Level of 


the essay, and his father's old and loyal friend Eandal Nor- 
ris, the sub-treasurer of the Inner Temple. Other essays, 
such as that On Chimney Sweepers, and The Decay of Beg- 
gars in the Metropolis, contain the results of that observing 
eye with which he had daily surveyed the streets of his 
beloved city for so many years, "looking no one in the 
face for more than a moment," as Mr. Procter has told us, 
yet " contriving to see everything as he went on." 

The opening essay on the South Sea House shows that 
there was no need to feel his way, either in matter or 
style. He began in the fulness of his observation, and 
with a style already formed, and adapting itself to all 
changes of thought and feeling. Hi^ description of John 
Tipp, the accountant, was enough to show that not only a 
keen observer, but a master of English was at work : 

" At the desk, Tipp was quite another sort of creature. Thence 
all ideas that were purely ornamental^ were banished. You could 
not speak of anything romantic without rebuke. Politics were ex- 
cluded. A newspaper was thought too refined and abstracted. The 
whole duty of man consisted in writing off dividend warrants. The 
striking of the annual balance in the company's books (which per- 
haps differed from the balance of last year in the sum of 25Z. Is. 6d.) 
occupied his days and nights for a month previous. Not that Tipp 
was blind to the deadness of things (as they call them in the City) 
in his beloved house, or did not sigh for a return of the old stirring 
days when South Sea hopes were young (he was indeed equal to the 
wielding of any the most intricate accounts of the most flourishing 
company in these or those days) : but to a genuine accountant the 
difference of proceeds is as nothing. The fractional farthing is as 
dear to his heart as the thousands which stand before it. He is the 
true actor who, whether his part be a prince or a peasant, must act 
it with like intensity. With Tipp, form was everything. His life was 
formal. His actions seemed ruled with a ruler. His pen was not 
less erring than his heart. He made the best executor in the world ; 
he was plagued with incessant executorships accordingly, which ex- 

l&a CHARLES LAMB. [ohap. 

cited his spleen and soothed his vanity in equal ratios. He would 
swear (for Tipp swore) at the little orphans, whose rights he would 
guard with a tenacity like the grasp of the dying hand that com- 
mended their interests to his protection. With all this there was 
about him a sort of timidity — his few enemies used to give it a worse 
name — a something which, in reverence to the dead, we will place, 
if you please, a little on this side of the heroic. Nature certainly 
had been pleased to endow John Tipp with a sufficient measure of 
the principle of self-preservation. There is a cowardice which we 
do not despise, because it has nothing base or treacherous in its 
elements ; it betrays itself, not you ; it is mere temperament ; the ab- 
sence of the romantic and the enterprising ; it sees a lion in the way, 
and will not, with Fortinbras, ' greatly find quarrel in a straw,' when 
some supposed honour is at stake. Tipp never mounted the box of 
a stage coach in his life, or leaned against the rails of a balcony, or 
walked upon the ridge of a parapet, or looked down a precipice, or 
let off a gun, or went upon a water-party, or would willingly let you 
go if he could have helped it ; neither was it recorded of him that 
for lucre, or for intimidation, he ever forsook friend or principle." 

Two of the essays have attained a celebrity, certainly 
not out of proportion to their merits, but serving to make 
quotation from them almost an impertinence. These are 
the Dissertation on Roast Pig, Lamb's version of a story 
told him by his friend Manning (though not probably to 
be found in any Chinese manuscript), and the essay, final- 
ly called Imperfect Sympathies, hat originally bearing the 
cumbrous title of Jews, Quakers, Scotchmen, and other 
Imperfect Sympathies. It is here that occurs the famous 
analysis of the Scotch character, perhaps the cleverest pas- 
sage, in its union of fine observation and felicity of phrase, 
in the whole of Lamb's writings. The anecdote of Lamb's 
favourite picture — his " beauty " — the Leonardo da Vinci, 
and that of the party where the son of Burns was expect- 
ed, together with the complaint that follows of the hope- 
lessness of satisfying a Scotchman in the matter of the 


appreciation of that poet, have become as much common- 
places of quotation as Sydney Smith's famous reference 
to the surgical operation. The brilliancy of the whole 
passage has rather thrown into the shade the disquisition 
on Quaker manners that follows, and the story he had 
heard from Carlisle, the surgeon, of the three Quakers who 
" stopped to bait " at Andover. But the whole paper is 

Hardly less familiar is the account of old Mrs. Battle, 
and her opinions upon the game of whist. " ' A clear fire, 
a clean hearth, and the rigour of the game.' This was the 
celebrated wish of old Sarah Battle (now with God) who 
next to her devotions loved a good game at whist. She 
was none of your lukewarm gamesters, your half-and-half 
players, who have no objection to take a hand if you want 
one to make up a rubber; who affirm that they have no 
pleasure in winning, that they like to win one game and 
lose another, that they can while away an hour very 
agreeably at a card-table, but are indifEerent whether tbey 
play or no, and will desire an adversary who has slipped a 
wrong card to take it up and play another. These insuf- 
ferable triflers are the curse of a table ; one of these flies 
will spoil a whole pot. Of such it may be said that they 
do notf play at cards, but only play at playing with them." 

The portrait must have been drawn in the main from 
life. One of the most singular suggestions ever offered 
by Lamb's editors is that this "gentlewoman born," with 
her " fine last-century countenance," the niece of " old Wal- 
ter Plumer," was drawn from Lamb's old grandmother,- 
Mrs. Field. As a test of the likelihood of this theory 
it will be found instructive to read, after this essay, the 
touching lines already cited called The Grandame. 

The marked peculiarities of Lamb's style give so unique 

104 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

a colouring to all these essays that one is apt to overlook 
to what a variety of themes it is found suitable. There 
is no mood, from that of almost reckless merriment to 
that of pathetic sweetness or religious awe, to which the 
style is not able to modulate with no felt sense of incon- 
gruity. A feature of Lamb's method, as we have seen, is 
his use of quotations. Not only are they brought in so 
as really to illustrate, but the passages cited themselves re- 
ceive illustration from the use made of them, and gain a 
permanent and heightened value from it. Whether it be 
a garden-scene from Marvell, a solemn paradox from Sir 
Thomas Browne, or a stanza from some then recent poem 
of Wordsworth, the quotation fulfils a double purpose, 
and has sent many a reader to explore for himself in the 
author whose words strike him with such luminous effect 
jn their new setting. Take, for example, the Miltonic 
digression in the essay on Grace before Meat. Lamb is 
never more happy than in quoting from or discoursing on 
Milton : 

" The severest satire upon full tables and surfeits is the banquet 
which Satan, in the Paradise Regained, provides for a temptation in 
the wilderness : 

" ' A table richly spread in regal modes 

With dishes piled and meats of noblest sort 
And savour ; beasts of chase, or fowl of game. 
In pastry built, or from the spit, or boiled 
Gris-amber-steamed ; all fish from sea or shore. 
Freshet or purling brook, for which was drained 
Pontus, and Lucrine bay, and Afrio coast.' 

The tempter, I warrant you, thought these cates would go down 
without the recommendatory preface of a benediction. They are 
like to be short graces where the devil plays the host. I am afraid 
the poet wants hia usual decorum in this place. Was he thinking of 
the old Roman luxury, or of a gaudy day at Cambridge ? This was 


a temptation fitter for a Heliogabalus. The whole banquet is loo 
civic and culinary ; and the accompaniments altogether a profanation 
of that deep, abstracted, holy scene. The mighty artillery of sauces 
which the cook-fiend conjures up, is out of proportion to the simple 
wants and plain hunger of the guest. He that disturbed him in his 
dreams, from his dreams might have been taught better. To the 
temperate fantasies of the famished Sou of God what sort of feasts 
presented themselves ? He dreamed indeed — 

" 'As appetite is wont to dream 
Of meats and drinks, nature's refreshment sweet.' 

But what meats ? 

" ' Him thought, he by the brook of Cherith stood, 
And saw the ravens with their horny beaks 
Food to Elijah bringing even and morn: 
Though ravenous, taught to abstain from what they brought. 
He saw the prophet also how he fled 
Into the desert, and how there he slept 
Under a juniper : then how awaked 
He found his supper on the coals prepared. 
And by the angel was bid rise and eat. 
And ate the second time after repose, 
The strength whereof suflSced him forty days : 
Sometimes, that with Elijah he partook 
Or as a guest with Daniel at his pulse.' 

Nothing in Milton is finelier fancied than these temperate dreams 
of the divine Hungerer. To which of these two visionary banquets, 
think you, would the introduction of what is called the grace have 
been most fitting and pertinent ?" 

" I am no Quaker at ray food." So Lamb characteris- 
tically proceeds, after one short paragraph interposed. " I 
confess I am not indifferent to the kinds of it. Those 
unctuous morsels of deer's flesh were not made to be re- 
ceived with dispassionate services. I hate a man who 
swallows it, affecting not to know what hfe is eating; I 
suspect his taste in higher matters. I shrink instinctively 

106 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

from one who professes to like minced veal. There is a 

physiognomical character in the tastes for food. C 

holds that a man cannot have a pure mind who refuses 
apple-dumplings. I am not certain but he is right." 

And so he rambles on in almost endless digression and 
absolute fearlessness as to egotism of such a kind ever 
palling or annoying. This egotism — it is almost superflu- 
ous to mark — is a dominant characteristic of Lamb's man- 
ner. The prominence of the personal element had indeed 
been a feature of the essay proper ever since Montaigne, 
its first inventor. But Lamb's use of the " I " has little 
resemblance to the gossiping confessions of the Gascon 
gentleman. These grave avowals as to the minced veal/ 
and the dumplings are not of the same order as Mon- 
taigne's confidences as to his preference of white wine to 
red. The " I " of Lamb in such a case is no concession to 
an idle curiosity, nor is it in fact biographical at all. Nor 
is it the egotism of Steele and Addison, though, when oc- 
casion arises. Lamb shows signs of the influence upon him 
of these earlier masters in his own special school. He 
thus begins, for instance, his paper called The Wedding: 
" I do not know when I have been better pleased than at 
being invited last week to be present at the wedding of a 
friend's daughter. I like to make one at these ceremonies, 
which to us old people give back our youth in a manner, 
and restore our gayest season, in the remembrance of our 
own success, or the regrets scarcely less tender, of our own 
youthful disappointments, in this point of a settlement. 
On these occasions I am sure to be in good-humour for a 
week or two after, and enjoy a reflected honeymoon." In 
matter, language, and cadence this might have been taken 
bodily from the Spectator. Yet this was no freak of imi- 
tation on Lamb's part. It merely arose from the subject 


and the train of thought engendered by it being of that 
domestic kind which Richard Steele loved so well to dis- 
course on. Lamb's mind and memory were so stored with 
English reading of an older date, that the occurrence of a 
particular theme sends him back, quite naturally, to those 
early masters who had specially made that theme their 
own. For all his strongly-marked individuality of manner, 
there are perhaps few English writers who have written so 
differently upon different themes. When he chose to be 
fanciful, he could be as euphuistic as Donne or Burton — 
when he was led to be grave and didactic, he could write 
with the sententiousness of Bacon — when his imagination 
and feeling together lifted him above thoughts of style, 
his English cleared and soared into regions not far below 
the noblest flights of Milton and Jeremy Taylor. When 
on the other hand he was at home, on homely themes, he 
wrote " like a man of this world," and of his own century 
and year. 

Still it must be said that his style is in the main an 
eclectic English. It is needless to add that this implies 
no affectation. No man ever wrote to^uch purpose in a 
style deliberately assumed. Hazlitt remarks of him, that 
" he is so thoroughly imbued with the spirit of his au- 
thors, that the idea of imitation is almost done way. 
There is an inward unction, a marrowy vein both in the 
thought and feeling, an intuition, deep and lively, of his 
subject that carries off any quaintness or awkwardness 
arising from an antiquated style and dress." This is quite 
true, and Hazlitt might have added that in the rare in- 
stances when Lamb used this old-fashioned manner, with- 
out the deeper thought or finer observation to elevate it, 
the manner alone, whimsical and ingenious as it is, be- 
comes a trifle wearisome. The euphuistic ingenuity of 

X08 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

All FooW Day is not a pleasing sample of Lamb's fac- 

His friend Bernard Barton wrote of him in a sonnet: 

" From the olden time 
Of authorship, thy patent should be dated, 
And thou with Marvell, Browne, and Burton mated." 

This trio of authors is well chosen. There is no poet he 
loves better to quote than Marvell, and none with whose 
poetic vein his own is more iii sympathy. Lamb received 
his impressions from nature (unless it was in Hertford- 
shire) largely through the medium of boots, and he makes 
it clear that old-fashioned garden-scenes come to him first 
with their peculiar charm when he meets with them in 
Milton or Marvell. But the second name cited by Barton 
is the most important of all among the influences on 
Lamb's style and the cast of his thongbt. Of all old 
writers, the author of the Urn, Burial and the Eeligio 
Medici appears oftenest, in quotation or allusion, in the 
Essays of Elia. Lamb somewhere boasts that he first 
"among the moderns" discovered and proclaimed his ex- 
cellences. And though Lamb never (so far as I can dis- 
cover) caught the special rhythm of Browne's sentences, 
it is from him that he adopted the constant habit, just re- 
ferred to, of asserting his opinions, feelings, and specula- 
tions in the first person. DiflEerent as are the two men in 
other regards, Lamb's egotism is largely the egotism of 
Sir Thomas Browne. From Browne too he probably 
caught a certain habit of gloomy paradox, in dwelling on 
the mysteries of the supernatural world. His sombre 
musings upon death in the essay called New Yearns Eve 
bear the strong impress of Browne, notwithstanding that 
they are antagonistic (perhaps consciously) to a remark- 


able passage in the Religio Medici. And even in his 
lighter vein of speculation, Lamb's persistent use of the 
first person often rea'ds as if he were humorously parody- 
ing the same original. 

A large portion of Lamb's history is related in these 
essays, and with the addition of a few names and dates, 
a complete biography might be constructed from them 
alone. As we have seen, he tells of his childish thoughts 
and feelings, of his school-days, his home in the Temple, 
the Hertfordshire village where he passed his holidays as 
a boy, and the university towns where he loved to spend 
them in manhood. He has drawn most detailed portraits 
of his grandmother, his father, sister, and brother, and 
would no doubt have added that of his mother, but for 
the painful memories it would have brought to Mary. 
Of the incidents in the happier days of his life, when 
Mary was in good health, and the daily sharer in all in- 
terests and pleasures, he has written with a special charm. 
There is a passage in the essay called Old China without 
which any picture of their united life would be incom- 
plete. The essay had begun by declaring Lamb's partial- 
ity for old china, from which after a few paragraphs he 
diverges, by a modulation common with him, to the recol- 
lection of his past struggles. He had been taking tea, he. 
says, with his cousin (under this relationship his sister 
Mary is always indicated), using a new set of china, and 
remarking to her on their better fortunes which enabled 
them to indulge now and again in the luxury of such a 
purchase, " when a passjng sentiment seemed to overshade 
the brows of my companion. I am quick at detecting 
these summer clouds in Bridget. 

" ' I wish the good old times would come again,' she 
said, ' when we were not quite so rich. I do not mean 


that I want to be poor, but tbere was a middle state,' so 
she was pleased to ramble on, ' in which I am sure we 
were a great deal happier. A purchase is but a purchase, 
now that you have money enough and to spare. Former- 
ly it used to be a triumph. When we coveted a cheap 
luxury (and O ! how much ado I had to get yon to con- 
sent in those days !) we were used to have a debate two or 
three days before, and to weigh the for and against, and 
think what we might spare it out of, and what saving we 
could hit upon that should be^ an equivalent. A thing 
was worth buying then, when we felt the money that we 
paid for it. 

" ' Do you remember the brown suit which you made to 
hang upon you, till all your friends cried shame upon you, 
it grew so threadbare, and all because of that folio Beau- 
mont and Fletcher, which you dragged home late at night 
from Barker's in Covent Garden ? Do you remember how 
we eyed it for weeks before we could make up our minds 
to the purchase, and had not come to a determination till 
it was near ten o'clock of the Saturday night, when you 
set ofE from Islington fearing you should be too late — and 
when the old bookseller, with some grumbling opened his 
shop, and by the twinkling taper (for he was setting bed- 
wards), lighted out the relic from his dusty treasures, and 
when you lugged it home, wishing it were twice as cum- 
bersome, and when you presented it to me, and when we 
were exploring the perfectness of it (collating, you called 
it), and while I was repairing some of the loose leaves 
with paste, which your impatience would not sufEer to be 
left till daybreak — was there no pleasure in being a poor 
man? or can those neat black clothes which you wear 
now, and are so careful to keep brushed, since we have 
become rich and finical, give you half the honest vanity 

tl] the essays of elia. in 

with which you flaunted it about in that over-worn suit 
— your old corbeau — for four or five weeks longer than 
you should have done, to pacify your coijscience for the 
mighty sum of fifteen or sixteen shillings, was it ? — a great 
affair we thought it then — which you had lavished on the 
old folio? Now you can afford to buy any book that 
pleases you, but I do not see that you ever bring ine home 
any nice old purchases now.' " 

The essay " Blakesmoor in H shire " has been more 

than once referred to, in connexion with Lamb's old grand- 
mother, Mrs, Field. The essay acquires a new interest 
when it is known how much of fact is contained in it. 
William Plumer, who represented his county in parlia- 
ment for so many years, and was at the time of his death, 
in 1822, member for Higham Ferrers, left his estates at 
Gilston and Blakesware to his widow, apparently with the 
understanding that the old Blakesware mansion should be 
pulled down. Accordingly not long before the date of 
Lamb's essay (September, 1824) it had been levelled to 
the ground ; and some of the more valuable of its con- 
tents, including the busts of the Twelve Caesars, so often 
dwelt on by Lamb in letter or essay, removed to the other 
house at Gilston. Under its roof, and among its gardens 
and terraces. Lamb's happiest days as a child had been 
spent, and he had just been to look once more on the few 
vestiges still remaining : 

"I do not know a pleasure more affecting than to range at will 
over the deserted apartments of some fine old family mansion. The 
traces of extinct grandeur admit of a better passion than envy ; and 
contemplations on the great and good, whom we fancy in succession 
to have been its inhabitants, weave for us illusions incompatible with 
the bustle of modern occupancy, and vanities of foolish present aris- 
tocracy. The same difference of feeling, I think, attends us between 

112 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

entering an empty and a crowded church. In the latter it is chance 
but some present human frailty — an act of inattention on the part of 
some of the auditory, or a trait of affectation, or worse, vainglory, on 
that of the preacher — puts us by our best thoughts, disharmonizing 
the place and the occasion. But would'st thou know the beauty of 
holiness ? Go alone on some week-day, borrowing the keys of good 
Master Sexton, traverse the cool aisles of some country church ; think 
of the piety that has kneeled there — the congregations, old and young, 
that have found consolation there — the meek pastor, the docile pa- 
rishioner. With no disturbing emotions, no cross, conflicting com- 
parisons, drink in the tranquillity of the place, till thoii thyself be- 
come as fixed and motionless as the marble effigies that kneel and 
weep around thee. 

" Journeying northward lately, I could not resist going some few 
miles out of my road to look upon the remains of an old great house 
with which I had been impressed in this way in infancy. I was 
apprised that the owner of it had lately pulled it down ; still I had a 
vague notion that it could not all have perished, that so much solid- 
ity with magnificence could not have been crushed all at once into 
the mere dust and rubbish which I found it. 

" The woi'k of ruin had proceeded with a swift hand indeed, and 
the demolition of a few weeks had reduced it to an antiquity. 

" I was astonished at the indistinction of everything. Where had 
stood the great gates ? What bounded the court - yard ? Where- 
about did the out-houses commence ? A few bricks only lay as rep- 
resentatives of that which was so stately and so spacious. 

"Death does not shrink up his human victim at this rate. The 
burnt ashes of a man weigh more in their proportion. 

" Had I seen these brick and mortar knaves at their process of de- 
struction, at the plucking of every panel I should have felt the var- 
lets at my heart. I should have cried out to them to spare a plank 
at least out of the cheerful store-room, in whose hot window-seat I 
used to sit and read Cowley, with the grass-plot before, and the hum 
and flappings of that one solitary wasp that ever haunted it about 
me — it is in mine ears now, as oft as summer returns ; or a panel of 
the yellow room. 

" Why, every plank and panel of that house for me had magic in 
it. The tapestried bedrooms — ^tapestry so much better than paint- 
ing — not adorning merely — but peopling the wainscots — at which 


childhood ever and anon would steal a look, shifting its coverlid (re- 
placed as quickly) to exercise its tender courage in a momentary eye- 
encounter with those stern bright visages, staling reciprocally — all 
Ovid on the walls — in colours vivider than his descriptions. Actsou 
in mid sprtiut, with the unappeasable prudery of Diana ; and the still 
more prow^king and almost culinary coolness of Dan Phoebus, eel- 
fashion, deliberately divesting of Marsyas. 

"Then that haunted room — in which old Mrs. Battle died — where- 
into I have crept, but always in the daytime, with a passion of fear ; 
and a sneaking curiosity, terror-tainted, to hold communication with 
the past. — How shall they build it up again ? 

" It was an old deserted place, yet not so long deserted but that 
traces of the splendour of past inmates were everywhere apparent. 
Its furniture was still standing, even to the tarnished gilt -leather 
battledores and crumbling feathers of shuttlecocks in the nursery, 
which told that children had once played there. But I was a lonely 
child, and had the range at will of every apartment, knew every nook 
and corner, wondered and worshipped everywhere. The solitude of 
childhood is not so much the mother of thought, as it is the feeder of 
love, and silence, and admiration. So strange a passion for the place 
possessed me in those years, that though there lay — I shame to say 
how few roods distant from the mansion — half hid by trees, what I 
judged some romantic lake, such was the spell which bound me to 
the house, and such my carefulness not to pass its strict and proper 
precincts, that the idle waters lay unexplored for me ; and not till 
late in life, curiosity prevailing over elder devotion, I found, to my 
astonishment, a pretty brawling brook had been the Lacus Incognitus 
of my infancy. Variegated views, extensive prospects — and those at 
no great distance from the house — I was told of such — what were 
they to me, being out of the boundaries of my Eden ? So far from a 
wish to roam, I would have drawn, methought, still closer the fences 
of my chosen prison; and have been hemmed in by a yet securer 
cincture of those excluding garden walls. I could have exclaimed 
with that garden-loving poet — 

" ' Bind me, ye woodbines, in your twines ; 
Curl me about, ye gadding vines ; 
And oh BO close your circles lace, 
That I may never leave this place : 

114 CHAELES LAMB. [chap. 

But lest your fettera prove too weak, 
Ere I your silken bondage break, 
Do you, brambles, chain me too. 
And, courteous briars, nail me through." 

I was here as in a lonely temple. Snug firesides, the low-built roof, 
parlours ten feet by ten, frugal boards, and all the homeliness of home 
— these were the condition of my birth — the wholesome soil which I 
was planted in. 

" Yet, without impeachment to their tendereat lessons, I am not 
sorry to have had glances of something beyond ; and to have taken, 
if but a peep, in childhood, at the contrasting accidents of a great 

In this essay, save for the change of Blakesware to 
Blakesmoor, the experience is related without disguise. 
But it is not always easy to disengage fact from fiction 
in these more personal confessions. Lamb had a love of 
mystifying and putting his readers on a false scent. And 
the difficulty of getting at the truth is the greater because 
he is often most outspoken when we should expect him 
to be reticent, and on the other hand alters names and 
places when there would seem to be little reason for it. A 
curious instance of this habit is supplied by the touching 
reverie called Dream Children. This essay appeared in 
the London for January, 1822. Lamb's elder brother John 
was then lately dead. A letter to Wordsworth, of March 
in this year, mentions his death as recent, and speaks of a 
certain " deadness to everything," which the writer dated 
from that event. The " broad, burly, jovial " John Lamb 
(so Talfourd describes him) had lived his own, easy, pros- 
perous life up to this time, not altogether avoiding social 
relations with his brother and sister, but evidently absorbed 
to the last in his own interests and pleasures. The death 
of this brother, wholly unsympathetic as he was with 
' Marvell on Appleton House, to the Lord Fairfax. 


Charles, served to bring home to him his loneliness. He 
was left in the world with but one near relation, and that 
one too often removed from him for months at a time by 
the saddest of afflictions. No wonder if he became keenly 
aware of his solitude. No wonder if his thoughts turned 
to what might have been, and he looted back to those 
boyish days when he wandered in the glades of Blakes- 
ware with Alice by his side. He imagines himself with 
his little ones, who have crept round him to hear stories 
about their "great -grandmother Field." For no reason 
that is apparent, while he retains his grandmother's real 
name, he places the house in Norfolk, but all the details 
that follow are drawn from Blakesware. "Then I went 
on to say how religious and how good their great-grand- 
mother Field was, how beloved and respected by every- 
body, though she was not indeed the mistress of this great 
house, but had only the charge of it (and yet in some re- 
spects she might be said to be the mistress of it too) com- 
mitted to her by its owner, who preferred living in a newer 
and more fashionable mansion which he had purchased 
somewhere in an adjoining county ;' but still she lived in 
it in a manner as if it had been her own, and kept up the 
dignity of the great house in a sort while she lived, which af- 
terwards came to decay, and was nearly pulled down, and all 
its old ornaments stripped and carried away to the owner's 
other house, where they were set up, and looked as awk- 
ward as if some one were to carry away the old tombs they 
had seen lately at the abbey and stick them up in Lady 
C.'s tawdry gilt drawing-room. Here John smiled, as much 
as to say, ' That would be foolish indeed.' " 

Inexpressibly touching, when we have once learned to 
penetrate the thin disguise in which he clothes them, are 

' This is, of course, Gilston, the other seat of the Plumer family. 

116 CHARLES LAMU. [chap. 

the boarded memories, the tender regrets, which Lamb, 
■writing by his " lonely hearth," thus ventured to commit 
to the uncertain sympathies of the great public. More 
touching still is the almost superhuman sweetness with 
which he deals with the character of his lately lost broth- 
er. He had named his little ones after this brother, and 
after their "pretty dead mother" — John and Alice. And 
there is something of the magic of genius, unless, indeed, 
it was a burst of uncontrollable anguish, in the revelation 
with which his dream ends. He kept still, as always, the 
secret of his beloved's name. But he tells us who it was 
that won the prize from him, and it is no secret that in 
this case the real name is_ given. The conclusion of this 
essay must be our last extract, but it would be diflBcult to 
find one more worthy : 

" Then in somewhat a more heightened tone, I told how, though 
their great-grandmother Field loved all her grandchildren, yet in an 

especial manner she might be said to love their uncle, John L , 

because he was so handsome and spirited a youth, and a king to the 
rest of us ; and instead of moping about in solitary corners, like some 
of us, he would mount the most mettlesome horse he could get, when 
but an imp no bigger than themselves, and make it carry him half 
over the county in a morning, and join the hunters when there were 
any out ; and yet he loved the old house and gardens too, but had 
too much spirit to be always pent up within their boundaries ; and 
how their uncle grew up to man's estate as brave as he was hand- 
some, to the admiration of everybody, but of their great-grandmother 
Field most especially ; and how he used to carry me upon his back 
when I was a lame-footed boy — for he was a good bit older than me 
— many a mile when I could not walk for pain ; and how in after-life 
he became lame-footed too, and I did not always (I fear) make al- 
lowance enough for him when he was impatient and in pain, nor re- 
member sufficiently how considerate he had been to me when I was 
lame-footed ; and how when he died, though he had not been dead 
an hour, it seemed as if he had died a great while ago, such a dis- 
tance there is betwixt life and death ; and how I bore his death as I 


thought pretty well at first, but afterwards it haunted and haunted 
me ; and though I did not cry or take it to heart as some do, and as 
I think he would have done if I had died, yet I missed him all day 
long, and knew not till then how much I had loved him. I missed 
his kindness and I missed his crossness, and wished him to be alive 
again to be quarrelling with him (for we quarrelled sometimes), rath- 
er than not have him again, and was as uneasy without him as he 
their poor uncle must have been whea the doctor took off his hmb. 
Here the children fell a-crying, and asked if their little mourning 
which they had on was not for Uncle John, and they looked up and 
prayed me not to go on about their uncle, but to tell them some 
stories about their pretty dead mother. Then I told how for seven 
long years, in hope sometimes, sometimes in despair, yet persisting 

ever, I courted the fair Alice W n ; and as much as children 

could understand, I explained to them what coyness and difficulty 
and denial meant in maidens — when suddenly, turning to Alice, the 
soul of the first Alice looked out at her eyes with such a reality of 
representment, that I became in doubt which of them stood there 
before me, or whose that bright hair was ; and while I stood gazing, 
both the children gradually grew fainter to my view, receding, and 
still receding till nothing at last but two mournful features were 
seen in the uttermost distance, which, without speech, strangely im- 
pressed upon me the effects of speech : ' We are not of Alice, nor 
of thee, nor are we children at all. The children of Alice call Bar- 
tram father. We are nothing ; less than nothing, and dreams. We 
are only what might have been, and must wait upon the tedious 
shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have existence and a 
name' — and immediately awaking I found myself quietly seated in 
my bachelor arm-chair, where I had fallen asleep, with the faithful 
Bridget unchanged by my side; but John L. (or James Ella) was 
gone for ever.'' 

The space available for quotation is exhausted, and 
many sides of Lamb's peculiar faculty are still unrepre- 
sented. Those who have yet to make his acquaintance 
may be advised to read, in addition to those already named, 
the essay On Some of the Old Actors, containing the anal- 
ysis of the character of Malvolio, a noble example of the 

118 CHAELES LAMB. [chap. 

uses which Shakspearian criticism may be made to serve 
— the extract from a letter to his friend Barron Field, a 
judge in New South Wales, entitled Distant Gorrespcmr 
dents, and that called The Praise of Chimney Sweepers. 
Belonging to the personal group, which includes Blakes- 
moor and Dream Children, is the paper MacJcery End in 
Hertfordshire, scarcely less delightful. The two critical 
essays on Sidney and Wither (the latter, however, does 
not belong to the Elia series), contain some of Lamb's 
most subtle criticism and most eloquent writing. Bar- 
bara S. is an anecdote of Fanny Kelly's early life ; and 
Captain Jackson is a character-sketch, which, despite the 
vast diflference between the two writers, curiously suggests 
the fine hand of Miss Austen. Lastly, the paper with 
the startling title. Confessions of a Drunkard, is not to 
be overlooked. A strange interest attaches to this paper. 
It had been originally written by Lamb, at the request 
of a friend, as one of a series of Temperance Tracts. In 
this capacity it had been quoted in an article in the Quar- 
terly, for April, 1822, as "a fearful picture of the conse- 
quences of intemperance," which the reviewer went on to 
say " we have reason to know is a true tale." In order to 
give the author the opportunity of contradicting this state- 
ment, the tract was reprinted in the London in the follow- 
ing August, under the signature of Elia. To it were ap- 
pended a few words of remonstrance with the Quarterly 
reviewer for assuming the literal truthfulness of these con- 
fessions, but accompanied with certain significant admis- 
sions that showed Lamb had no right to be seriously in- 
dignant. " It is indeed," he writes, " a compound ex- 
tracted out of his long observations of the effects of drink- 
ing upon all the world about him ; and this accumulated 
mass of misery he hath centred (as the custom is with ju- 


dicioiis essayists) in a single figure. We deny not that a 
portion of his own experiences may have passed into the 
picture (as who, that is not a washy fellow, but must at 
some time have felt the after-operation of a too generous 
cup ?) ; but then how heightened ! how exaggerated 1 how 
little within the sense of the Review, where a part, in their 
slanderous usage, must be understood to stand for the 
whole." The truth is that Lamb in writing his tract had 
been playing with edge-tools, and could hardly have com- 
plained if they turned against himself. It would be those 
who knew Lamb, or at least the circumstances of his life, 
best, who would be most likely to accept these confessions 
as true. For in the course of them he gives with curious 
fidelity the outline of an experience that was certainly not 
imaginary. The " friendly harpies " who came about him 
for his gin-and-water, and made its consumption more and 
more a habit ; the exchange of these in due course for 
companions of a better type, " of intrinsic and felt worth;" 
the substitution for a while, under the influence of two of 
these, of the " sweet enemy " tobacco, and the new slavery 
to this counter-attraction ; the increasing need of stimulant 
to set his wits to work, and the buflEoonery indulged under 
its effects ; all this is told in a way that no friend of Lamb 
could affect to mistake. No doubt the exaggeration which 
Lamb pleads is there also, and the drunkard's utter col- 
lapse and misery are described in a style which, as applied 
to himself, was absurd. But to call the insinuation that 
the tract had in it biographic truth, " malignant," as some 
of Lamb's apologists have done, is not less absurd. The 
essay had enough reality in it to live as a very powerful 
plea for the virtue of self-restraint, and it may continue 
to do good service in the cause. 

De Quincey has observed that one chief pleasure we 

120 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

derivefrom Lamb's writing is due to a secret satisfaction 
in feeling that his admirers must always of necessity be a 
select few. There is an unpleasantly cynical flavour about 
the remark, but at the same time one understands to what 
it points. Thoroughly to understand and enjoy Charles 
Lamb, one must have come to entertain a feeling towards 
him almost like personal affection, and such a circle of inti- 
mates will always be small. It is necessary to come to the 
study of his writings in entire trustfulness, and having first 
cast away all prejudice. The reader must be content to 
enjoy what is set before him, and not to grumble because 
any chance incident on the road tempts the writer away 
from the path on which he set out. If an essay is head- 
ed Oxford in the Vacation, he must not complain that only 
lialf the paper touches on Oxford, and that the rest is di- 
vided between the writer Elia and a certain absent-minded 
old scholar, George Dyer, on whose peculiarities Lamb was 
never weary of dwelling. What, then, is the compensating 
charm ? What is there in these rambling and multifarious 
meditations that proves so stimulating and suggestive ? 
There is an epithet commonly applied to Lamb so hack- 
neyed that one shrinks from using it once more — the epi- 
thet " delightful." No other word certainly seems more 
appropriate, and it is perhaps because (in defiance of ety- 
mology) the sound of it suggests that double virtue of 
illuminating, and making happy. It is in vain to attempt 
to convey an idea of the impression left by Lamb's style. 
It evades analysis. One might as well seek to account for 
tlie perfume of lavender, or the flavour of quince. It is 
in truth an essence, prepared from flowers and herbs gath- 
ered in fields where the ordinary reader does not often 
range. And the nature of the writer — the alembic in 
which these various simples were distilled — was as rare 


for sweetness and purity as the best of those enshrined in 
the old folios — his " midnight darlings." If he had by 
nature the delicate grace of Marvell, and the quaint fancy 
of Quarles, he also shared the chivalry of Sidney, and could 
lay on himself " the lowliest duties," in the spirit of his 
best-beloved of all, John Milton. It is the man, Charles 
Lamb, that constitutes the enduring charm of his written 
words. He is, as I have said, an egotist — but an egotist 
without a touch of vanity or self-assertion — an egotist 
without a grain of envy or ill-nature. When asked one 
day whether he did not hate some person under discus- 
sion, he retorted, " How could I hate him ? Don't I know 
him ? I never could hate any one I knew." It is this 
humanity that gives to his intellect its flexibility and its 
deep vision, that is the feeder at once of his pathos and 
Lis humour. 





The last six years of Lamb's life, though the most re- 
markable in his literary annals, had not been fruitful in 
incident. The death of his elder brother, already men- 
tioned, was the one event that nearly touched his heart 
and spirits. , Its efiect had been, with the loss of some 
other friends about the same time, to produce, he said, "a 
certain deadness to everything." It had brought home to 
him his loneliness, and moreover served to increase a long- 
felt weariness of the monotony of office life. Already, 
in the beginning of 1822, he was telling Wordsworth, "I 
grow ominously tired of official confinement. Thirty years 
have I served the Philistines, and my neck is not subdued 
to the yoke. You don't know how wearisome it is to 
breathe the air of four pent walls, without relief, day after 
day, all the golden hours of the day between ten and 
four, without ease or interposition. Tcedet me harum 
quotidianarum formarum, these pestilential clerk-faces al- 
ways in one's dish. ... I dare not whisper to myself 
a pension on this side of absolute incapacitation and in- 
firmity, till years have sucked me dry — otium cum indig- 
nitate. I had thought in a green old age (0 green 


thought!) to have retired to Ponder's End, emblematic 
name, how beautiful ! in the Ware Koad, there to have 
made up my accounts with Heaven and the Company, tod- 
dling about it between it and Cheshunt, anon stretching, 
on some fine Izaac Walton morning, to Hoddesden or 
Amwell, careless as a beggar; but waiting, walking ever 
till I fairly walked myself o£E my legs, dying walking! 
The hope is gone. I sit like Philomel all day (but not 
singing) with my heart against this thorn of a desk." 
Very touching, by the side of the delightful suggestion of 
Ponder's End, is the dream of retirement to the Ware 
Eoad — the road, that is to say, that led to Widford and 
Blakesware. If these were not to him exactly what Au- 
burn was to Goldsmith, he still at times had hopes — 

" His long vexation past, 
There to return, and die at home at last." 

Three years were, however, to elapse before he was at lib- 
erty to choose his own place of residence. It is signifi- 
cant that though he could never bring himself to live 
quite beyond reach of. town, and the "sweet security of 
streets," it was in the Hertfordshire direction that he 
turned in his last days, and died as it were half-way be- 
tween London and that quiet Hertfordshire village, the 
two places he loved best on earth. 

There was one incident in those Eussell Street days 
that would have been an event indeed in the life of most 
home-keeping men who had reached middle life without 
having once left English shores. In the summer holiday 
of 1822 Charles and his sister made a trip to Paris. At 
whose suggestion, or in obedience to what sudden impulse, 
they were led to make so violent a change in their usual 
habits, there is nothing to show. They left England in 

124 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

the middle of Jane, and two months later we find Mary 
Lamb still in Paris, and seeing the sights under the direc- 
tion of their friend, Crabb Robinson. Charles, who had 
returned earlier to England, had left a characteristic note 
of instructions for his sister's guidance, advising her to 
walk along the "Borough side of the Seine," where she 
would find a mile and a half of print-shops and book- 
stalls. " Then," he adds, not unfairly describing a first 
impression of Pere-la-Chaise, " there is a place where the 
Paris people put all their dead people, and bring them 
flowers and dolls and gingerbread -nuts and sonnets and 
such trifles; and that is all, I think, worth seeing as 
sights, except that the streets and shops of Paris are 
themselves the best sight." In a note to Barron Field on 
his return, he adds a few more of his experiences, how 
he had eaten frogs, fricasseed, " the nicest little delicate 
things," and how the Seine was " exactly the size to run 
through a magnificent street." 

He finds time, however, to add to his hasty note the 
pleasant intelligence that he had met Talma. Eenney, 
the dramatist, was at this time living at Versailles, and to 
him Lamb owed this introduction. Talma had lately 
given a thousand francs for what he was assured was an 
authentic portrait of Shakspeare, and he invited Kenney 
to bring Lamb to see it. "It is painted," Lamb writes, 
" on the one half of a pair of bellows, a lovely picture, 
corresponding with the folio head." It is hard to believe 
that Lamb had any doubts about the spuriousness of this 
relic, though his language on the point is dubious. He 
quotes the rhymes " in old carved wooden letters " that 
surrounded the portrait, and adds the significant remark 
that Ireland was not found out by his parchments, but by 
his poetry. And perhaps he did not wish to hurt Talma's 


feelings. It was arranged that the party should see the 
tragedian in Regulus the same evening, and that he should 
sup with thera after the performance. Lamb, we are told, 
" could not at all enter into the spirit of French acting, 
and in his general distaste made no exception in favour of 
his intended guest. This, however, did not prevent their 
mutual and high relish of each other's character and con- 
versation, nor was any allusion made to the performance, 
till, on rising to go. Talma inquired how he liked it. 
Lamb shook his head and smiled. ' Ah 1' said Talma. 
' I was not very happy to-night : you must see me in 
Sylla.' ' Incidit in Scyllam,' said Lamb, ' qui vult vitare 
Charybdim.' ' Ah ! you are a rogue ; you arc a great 
rogue,' said Talma, shaking him cordially by the hand, as 
they parted." 

There is a sad story, only too likely to be true, that 
Mary Lamb was seized with one of her old attacks on the 
journey, and had to be left at Amiens in charge of her 
attendant. If so, it may account for her brother avoiding 
the subject in later essays and letters. An Elia essay em- 
bodying even the surface impressions of a month's stay in 
Paris would have been a welcome addition to the number. 
Lamb was usually prompt to seize on the latest incident 
in his life and turn it to this purpose. When short-sight- 
ed George Dyer, leaving the cottage at Islington, walked 
straight into the New River in broad daylight, the advent- 
ure appears the very next month in the London Magazine, 
under the heading of Amicus Redivivus. But France and 
the French do not seem to have opened any new vein of 
humour or observation. In truth, Lamb was unused to 
let his sympathies go forth save in certain customary di- 
rections. Any persons, and any book that he had come 
to know well — any one of the " old familiar faces " — 

126 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

served to draw out those sympathies. But novelties lie 
almost alvpays passed by unmoved. 

The first series of Lamb's essays, under the title of 
Slia — Essays that have appeared under that signature 
in the London Magazine — was published in a single vol- 
ume by Taylor and Hessey at the opening of the year 
1823. It contained the contributions of something less 
than two years. As yet there was assuredly no sign of 
failing power in the brain and heart that produced them. 
Nor did Lamb cease to contribute to the magazine and 
elsewhere after the appearance of the first volume. The 
second series, published ten years later, is an exception to 
the rule that sequels must necessarily be failures. Old 
China and Poor Relations, the Old Margate Hoy, Blakes- 
moor, Barbara S., and the Superannuated Man, which are 
found in the second series, exhibit all Lamb's qualities at 
their highest. It was perhaps only a passing mood of 
melancholy that made him write to Bernard Barton, in 
March, 1823, when the book had already begun to make 
its mark : " They have dragged me again into the maga- 
zine, but I feel the spirit of the thing in my own mind 
quite gone. ' Some brains ' (I think Ben Jonson says it) 
* will endure but one skimming.' " But another cause for 
this depression may have been at work. There was a 
painful incident connected with the Mia volume from the 
first, for which even the quick appreciation of the public 
could not compensate. There had been one exception to 
the welcome with which the book had been greeted. A 
word of grave disapprobation, or what had seemed such to 
Lamb, had been heard amid the chorus of approval, and 
this word had been spoken by a dear and valued friend. 

In the Quarterly Review of January, 1823, appeared an 
article, known to be by Southey, professing to be a review 

til] controversy WITH SOUTHEY. 127 

of a work by Gregoire, ex-Bishop of Blois, on tie rise and 
progress of Deism in France. After the fashion of re- 
viewers, Southey had made the boot an occasion for a 
general survey of the progress of free-thought in England 
as well as abroad, and the article was issued with the 
alarming title. Progress of Infidelity. Towards its close 
Southey is led very characteristically into many general 
reflections on the reasonableness of belief, and the unrea- 
sonableness of scepticism, and while engaged on this line 
of thought, it seems to have occurred to him that he 
might at once "point a moral" and call attention to a 
friend's book, by a quotation from the then newly pub- 
lished volume of Lamb. And this is how he set about it : 
"Unbelievers have not always been honest enough thus 
to express their real feelings ; but this we know concern- 
ing them, that when they have renounced their birthright 
of hope, they have not been able to divest themselves of 
fear. From the nature of the human mind this might be 
presumed, and in fact it is so. They may deaden the 
heart and stupefy the conscience, but they cannot destroy 
the imaginative faculty. There is a remarkable proof of 
this in Ella's Essays, a book which wants only a sounder 
religious feeling, to be as delightful as it is original. In 
that upon Witches and other Night Fears, he says: ' It is 
not book or picture, or the stories of foolish servants, 
■which create these terrors in children. They can at most 
but give them a direction. Dear little T. H., who of all 
children has been brought up with the most scrupulous 
exclusion of every taint of superstition, who was never 
allowed to hear of goblin or apparition, or scarcely to be 
told of bad men, or to hear or read of any distressing 
story, finds all this world of fear, from which he has been 
so rigidly excluded ab extra, in his own "thick-coming 

128 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

fancies ;" and from his little midnight pillow this nurse- 
child of optimism will start at shapes, unborrowed of tra- 
dition, in sweats to which the reveries of the cell-damnod 
murderer are tranquillity.' " 

I have had occasion to refer to this essay before, in 
speaking of Lamb's childhood. For, as usual, it originated 
in his own experience. He was led to relate how from 
the age of four to seven his nightly sleep had been dis- 
turbed by childish terrors, in which the grim picture of 
Saul and the Witch, in Stackhouse's History of the Bible, 
had borne so prominent a part. And then, in order to 
strengthen his argument that these terrors are nervous, and 
not to bo traced to any gloomy or improper religious train- 
ing, he cites the parallel case, within his own knowledge, 
of " dear little T. H." All Lamb's friends and associates 
knew that this was little Thornton Ilunt, Leigh Hunt's 
eldest son. The use of initials was really no disguise at 
all. Lamb admitted in his subsequent remonstrance with 
Southey that to call him T. H. was " as good as naming 
hi in." If the sanctity of private life had been violated, it 
was certainly Lamb who had set the example. But, as 
certainly, he had said nothing to the discredit of the poor 
child or his parents. According to the ethics of journal- 
ism current sixty years ago there was nothing uncommon 
in this way of indicating living people. Lamb was special- 
ly fond of bringing in his friends and acquaintances by 
their initials. His own family, Coleridge, Norris, Barron 
Field, and many others, occur repeatedly in his writings 
in this guise. He was intimate with Leigh Hunt and his 
young family, and sincerely attached to them. Nothing 
had been further from his thoughts than to cast any kind 
of slight upon the little boy, " Thornton Hunt, my favour- 
ite child," or his educators. It must therefore have been 


with something more than disgust that he found the Quar- 
terly reviewer, proceeding, after the passage just cited, to 
point out with unmistakable animus that such nervous ter- 
rors were easily to be accounted for in the case of one who 
had been brought up in ignorance of all the facts and con- 
solations of the Christian religion. 

It is possible that this gratuitous attack upon a political 
opponent, through his own child, was not added to the 
article until after it had left Southey's hands. All that 
we know from Southey himself is that his sole object in 
mentioning Lamb's volume had been to call attention to 
its general merits — that he had in the first instance written 
"a saner religious feeling," which was the word that ex- 
actly expressed his meaning ; that happily remembering in 
time the previous history of the Lamb family, he had hast- 
ily changed the word to " sounder," meaning to re-cast the 
sentence when the article returned to him in proof, and 
that the opportunity never came. We may be sure that 
this explanation represents the whole truth. Southey had 
written to his friend Wynn, in the very month in which 
the article appeared : " Eead Ulia, if the book has not 
fallen in your way. It is by my old friend, Charles Lamb. 
There are some things in it which will ofEend, and some 
which will pain you, as they do me ; but you will find in 
it a rich vein of pure gold." And the things which pain- 
ed him were certainly of a kind about which the word 
sane might be more properly used than the word sound. 
Lamb was probably mistaken in thinking that Southey re- 
ferred to certain familiarities, if not flippancies, of expres- 
sion on serious subjects that he may at times have indulged 
in. On this score he had a fair retort ready in the various 
ballads of diablerie that Southey had not disdained to 
write, and to publish. Nor was Southey, we may be sure. 

130 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

offended by so genuinely earnest a plea for temperance and 
rational gratitude as is contained in the essay Grace before 
Meat. Rather (as Lamb evidently suspected) was it such 
a vein of speculation as that followed out in New Year's 
Eve, which would cause a strange chill to the simple faith 
and steadfast hopefulness of his friend. As I have said, 
Lamb seems in this essay to have written with the express 
purpose of presenting the reverse side of a passage in his 
favourite Meligio Medici. Sir Thomas Browne had there 
written : " I thank God I have not those strait ligaments, 
or narrow obligations to the world, as to dote on life, or 
be convulsed and tremble at the name of death." " When 
I take a full view and circle of myself without this reason- 
able moderator, and equal piece of justice, death, I do con- 
ceive myself the miserablest person extant." Lamb may 
have argued (in the very words applied to this treatise in 
the essay on Imperfect Sympathies) that it was all very 
well for the author of the Religio Medici, " mounted upon 
the airy stilts of abstraction," to " overlook the impertinent 
individualities of such poor concretions as mankind," but 
that to him, Elia, death meant something by no means to 
be defined as a " reasonable moderator," and " equal piece 
of justice." He clung to the things he saw and loved — 
the friends, the books, the streets and crowds around him, 
and he was not ashamed to confess that death meant for 
him the absence of all these, and that he could not look it 
steadfastly in the face. 

It is worth noticing that the profound melancholy of 
this essay had already attracted attention, and formed the 
subject of a copy of verses, in the form of a Poetical Epistle 
to Elia, signed "Olen," in the London Magazine for Au- 
gust, 1821. Elia had been there taken to task, in lines 
of much eloquence and feeling, for his negative views on 


the subject of a future life. And indeed, for all the dal- 
lying with paradox, and the free blending of fact with 
fiction, in this singular paper, the fragments of personal 
confession are very remarkable. There are few things in 
literature more pathetic than the contrast drawn between 
the two stages of his own life, as if he would have given 
the lie sadly to his friend's adage about the child being 
father of the man : 

" If I know aught of myself, no one whose mind is introspective 
— and mine is painfully so — can have a less respect for his present 
identity, than I have for the man Elia. I know him to be light, and 
vain, and humoursome ; a notorious ■ ■ ■ ; addicted to ... ; averse 
from counsel, neither taking it nor ofEering it ; . . . besides ; a stam- 
mering buffoon ; what you will ; lay it on, and spare not ; I subscribe 
to it all, and much more than thou canst be willing to lay at his door 
— but for the child Elia — that ' other me ' there in the background 
— I must take leave to cherish the remembrance of that young mas- 
ter, with as little reference, I protest, to this stupid changeling of 
five-and-forty as if it had been a child of some other house, and not 
of my parents. I can cry over its patient small-pox at five, and 
rougher medicaments. I can lay its poor fevered head upon the 
sick pillow at Christ's, and wake with it in surprise at the gentle 
posture of maternal tenderness hanging over it, that unknown had 
watched its sleep. I know how it shrank from any the least colour 
of falsehood. God help thee, Elia, how art thou changed ! Thou 
art sophisticated. I know how honest, how courageous (for a weak- 
ling) it was ; how reUgious, how imaginative, how hopeful ! From 
what have I not fallen if the child I remember was indeed myself, 
and not some dissembling guardian, presenting a false identity, to 
give the rule to my unpractised steps, and regulate the tone of my 
moral being." 

Although the gloom is relieved by no ray of hope or 
consolation, the reality of the self-reproach might well 
have saved the writer from criticism, even as to the " sani- 
ty " of his religious feeling. 

132 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

Lamb was annoyed, rather than deeply hurt, by the at- 
tack upon himself. He had old grievances against the 
Quarterly Review. Eight or nine years before, he had 
written for it a review of Wordsworth's Excursion, which 
Gifiord inserted after alterations that Lamb compared to 
pulling out the eyes and leaving only the bleeding sockets. 
" I cannot give you an idea of what he (Gifford) has done 
to it," he wrote to Wordsworth. " The language he has 
altered throughout. Whatever inadequateness it had to 
its subject, it was, in point of composition, the prettiest 
piece of prose I ever writ." And it is clear from the ar- 
ticle itself, as it appears in the number for October, 1814, 
that this language is not exaggerated. The sweetness and 
delicate perception of the author are there, but the diction 
bears little of his peculiar mark. Then had come the un- 
fortunate reference to the Confessions of a Drunkard, al- 
ready mentioned. In general the Quarterly set were in 
implacable opposition to the Lamb set, and now, not for 
the first time, he had to hear hard things said, not only of 
himself, but of those who were bound to him by ties of 
strong afEection. He seems not to have been informed of 
the attack till some months after its appearance. It is 
not till the July following, at least, that any mention of it 
occurs in his letters. In that month he writes to Bernard 
Barton : " Southey has attacked Elia on the score of infi- 
delity, in the Quarterly article. Progress of Infidelity. He 
might have spared an old friend such a construction of a 
few careless flights, that meant no harm to religion. If all 
his unguarded expressions on the subject were to be col- 
lected — but I love and respect Sonthey, and will not re- 
tort. I hate his review and his being a reviewer. The 
hint he has dropped will knock the sale of the book on 
the head, which was almost at a stop before." This last 


apprelicTision was evidently groundless. There is no reason 
to suppose that the book made its way more slowly for 
the paragraph in the review. For whatever here :and there 
is morbid in them, the Essays themselves contain the best 
antidote. ■ 

Lamb could not resist the opportunity it afforded him 
for a fresh essay of Elia, and in the London iov October, 
1823, appeared the Letter of Elia to Hoiert Southey, Esq, 
As a whole, it is not one of Lam b'si happiest efEorts. His 
more valid grounds of complaint against the review are^set 
forthwith sufficient dignity and force. He urges quite 
fairly that to say a book " wants a isounder religious fcct- 
ing,'' is to say either too much or too little. And' the in- 
decency of attacking Leigh Hunt through bis own child, 
a boy of twelve, is properly rebuked. But when Lamb 
carries the war into the enemy's territory, ihe is less suc- 
cessful. As two blacks do not make a white, it was be- 
side the mark to make biborious fun over Southoy's youth- 
ful ballads ; and the grievances as to the fees ext6rted f ronl 
■visitors to Westminster Abbey comes in rather flatly as a 
peroration. The concluding paragraphs of the letter are 
th« only portions that Lamb afterwards thought well to 
reprint. They appeared, ten years later, in the Second 
Scries of Elim under the titla of Tombs of the Abbey. 
The letter, as a whole, is given in^Talfourd's Memorials. ' 

Lamb was not so deeply moved by Soutbey's criticism 
but that 'he could make some, sport over his annoyance. 
What actually galled him was the attack, through himself, 
upon a friend. In previous articles in the. same Review 
be had found himself complimented at the expense of an- 
other friend,' William Hazlitt. And now he took the op- 
portunity to vindicate his friendship for both Hunt and 
Hdzlit't in a passage that forms the most interesting and 

134 CHARLES I.AMB. [chap. 

valuable'portion of the letter. There had been a coolness, 
he tells us, between himself and Hazlitt, and it is pleasant 
to know that Lamb's generosity of tone at this time help- 
ed to mate the relations between them once more cordial. 
" Protesting," he says, " against much that he has written, 
and some things which he chooses to do ; judging him by 
his conversation which I enjoyed so long, and relished so 
-deeply ; or by his books, in those places where no cloud- 
ing passion intervenes, I should belie my own conscience 
if I said less than that I think W. H. to be, in his natural 
and healthy state, one of the wisest and finest spirits 
breathing. So far from being ashamed of that intimacy 
which was betwixt us, it is my boast that I was able for 
so many years to have preserved it entire ; and I think I 
shall go to my grave without finding or expecting to find 
such another companion." Not less manly and noble is 
the justification of his steady friendship for Leigh Hunt, 
at that time living abroad, and with a reputation in Eng- 
land of ill savour with those to whom the pages of the 
Quarterly wore addressed. " L H. is now in Italy ; on 
his departure to which land, with much regret, I took my 
leave of hira and of his little family, seven of them, sir, 
with their mother, and as kind a set of little people (T. H. 
and all), as affectionate children as ever blessed a parent. 
Had you seen them, sir, I think you could not l(ave looked 
upon them as so many little Jonases, but rather as pledges 
of the vessel's safety, tliat was to bear such a freight of 
love. I wish you would read Mr. H.'s lines to that same 
T. H., ' six years old, during a sickness ' — 

" ' Sleep breaks at last from out thee, 
My little patient boy ' — 

(they are to be found on the 4'7th page of Foliage) — and 


ask yourself how far they are out of the spirit of Chris- 

As he wrote these words, Lamb may have recalled how 
his own unfailing sympathy- had been a comfort to this 
friend in those darker days when Leigh Hunt was under- 
going his two years' imprisonment in the Surrey jail for 
his newspaper attack on the Prince Kegent. Lamb and 
his sister were among the Hunts' most regular visitors at 
that time. "My eldest little boy," writes Hunt in his 
Autobiography, " was my constant companion, and we 
used to play all sorts of juvenile games together." And 
it was on watching the child at play among the uncon- 
genial surroundings of prison life that Lamb had written 
his own lines to " T. L. H. — a child," comforting child and 
father with the thought that the time of deliverance was 
at hand, when the boy would be once more in his native 
element, breathing the healthful air and plucking the wild 
flowers on Hampstead Heath. Lamb was always tender 
over children, and these lines have a simplicity, over and 
above their studied quaintness, that savours pleasantly of 
Blake : 

" Guileless traitor, rebel mild, 

Convict unconscious, culprit-child ! 

Gates tiiat close witii iron roar 

Have been to thee thy nursery door : 

Chains that chink in cheerless cells 

Have been thy rattles and thy bells : 

Walls contrived for giant sin 

Have hemmed thy faultless weakness in : 

Near thy sinless bed black guilt 

Her discordant house hath built, 

And filled it with her monstrous brood — 

Sights by thee not understood — 

Sights of fear, and of distress, 

That pass a harmless infant's guess ! 

136 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

But the clouds that overcast 

Thy young morning may not last. 

Soon shall arrive the rescuing hour 

That yields thee up to Nature's power. 

Nature that so late doth greet thee 

Shall in o'erflowing measure meet thee. 

She shall recompense with cost 

For every lesson thou hast lost. 

Then wandering up thy sire's loved hill 

Thou shalt take thy airy fill 

Of health and pastime. Birds shall sing 

For ihy delight each May fnorning. 

'Mid new-yeaned lambkins thou shalt play, 

Hardly less a lamb than they. 

Then thy prison'^ lengthened bound 

Shall be the horizon skirting round. 

And, while thou fiU'st thy lap with flowers 

To make amends for wintry hours, 

The breeze, the sunshine, and the place, 

Shall from thy tender brow efface 

Each vestige, of untimely care 

That sour restraint had graven there ; 

And on thy every look impress 

A more excelling childishness. 

So shall be thy days beguiled, 

Thornton Hunt, my favourite child." 

Southey first learned from the pages of the London Mag- 
azine the effect of the language used by him in the Quar- 
terly Review. " On my part," he wrote to his publisher, 
after reading Lamb's epistle, "there was not even a mo- 
mentary feeling of anger. I was very much surprised and 
grieved, because I knew how much he would condemn 
himself, and yet no resentful letter was ever written less 
offensively ; his gentle nature may be seen in it througb- 
ont." Southey was in London in the month after the pub- 
lication of Lamb's remonstrance, and wrote him a letter in 


language full of affection and sorrow. The soreness at 
once passed away. "Dear Southey," he replied, "the 
kindness of your note has melted away the mist which, 
was upon me. I have been fighting against a shadow. 
That accursed Q. B. had vexed me by a gratuitous speak- 
ing, of its own knowledge, tliat the Confessions of a D d 

was a genuine description of the state of the writer. Lit- 
tle things that are not ill meant may produce much ill. 
That might have injured me alive and dead: I am in a 
public office, and my life is insured. I was prepared for 
anger, and I thought I saw in a few obnoxious words a 
hard case of repetition directed against me. I wish both 
Magazine and Review at the bottom of the sea. I shall be 
ashamed to see you, and my sister (though innocent) still 
more so ; for the folly was done without her knowledge, 
and has made her uneasy ever since. My guardian angel 
was absent at that time. I will muster up courage to see 
you, however, any day next week. We shall hope that 
you will bring Edith with you. That will be a second mor- 
tification. She will hate to see us ; but come, and heap em- 
bers. We deserve it — I for what I've done, and she for be- 
ing my sister." The visit was paid, and the old intimacy 
renewed, never again to be weakened by unkindly word. 

In this note to Southey, Lamb has to tell of a change of 
address. In August of this year he and his sister had final- 
ly moved from Russell Street, and for the first time in their 
united lives became householders. The rooms over the 
brazier's had from the first had many drawbacks, and for 
some years the brother and sister had occasionally retired 
to a rural lodging at Dalston, partly to enjoy a short res- 
pite from the din of the theatres and the market, but chief- 
ly that Charles might be able to write without interruption 
from the increasing band of intruders on his scanty lei- 

138 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

sure. There is a pretty glimpse of one such period of re- 
treat in a note to Miss Hutchinson of April in this year : 
" Meanwhile of afternoons we pick up primroses at Dal- 
ston, and Mary corrects me when I call 'em cowslips." 
And now they resolved to fix their tent permanently with- 
in reach of primroses and cowslips, and Charles must tell 
the story in his own words. He writes to Bernard Bar- 
ton : " When you come Londonward, you will find me no 
longer in Covent Garden. I have a cottage in Colebrook 
Eow, Islington ; a cottage, for it is detached ; a white 
house with six good rooms ; the New River (rather elderly 
by this time) runs (if a moderate walking pace can be so 
termed) close to the foot of the house ; and behind is a 
spacious garden with vines (I assure you), pears, strawber- 
ries, parsnips, leeks, carrots, cabbages, to delight the heart 
of old Alcinous. You enter without passage into a cheer- 
ful dining-room, all studded over and rough with old 
books; and above is a lightsome drawing-room, three 
windows, full of choice prints. I feel like a great lord, 
never having had a house before." The sequel must be 
given, so amusingly illustrative of the snares and pitfalls 
that are inseparable even from rural felicity : " I am so 
taken up with pruning and gardening, quite a new sort of 
occupation to me. I have gathered my Jargonels, but my 
Windsor pears are backward. The former were of exqui- 
site raciness. I do now sit under my own vine and con- 
template the growth of vegetable nature. I can now un- 
derstand in what sense they speak of father Adam. I rec- 
ognize the paternity while I watch my tulips. I almost 
fell with him, for the first day I turned a drunken gar- 
dener (as he let in the serpent) into my Eden, and he laid 
about him, lopping off some choice boughs, &c., which 
hung over from a neighbour's garden, and in his blind zeal 


laid waste a shade ■which had sheltered their window from 
the gaze of passers-by. The old gentlewoman (fury made 
her not handsome) could scarcely be reconciled by all my 
fine words. There was no buttering her parsnips. She 
talked of the law. What a lapse to commit on the first 
day of my happy ' garden state !' " 

The same letter tells of the failing fortunes of the Lon- 
don Magazine. Lamb was still contributing to its pages, 
though not so regularly as of old. He speaks of himself 
as lingering among its creaking rafters, like the last rat, 
and of many ominous secessions from the ranks of its old 
supporters. Hazlitt and Procter had forsaken it, and with 
them one who might well have been spared before, the 
•wretched Wainwright, who had contributed to its pages 
various flimsy and conceited rhapsodies on art and letters. 
It is characteristic of Lamb that he always finds some 
good-natured word to say of this man, such as "kind" or 
" light-hearted," principally, no doubt, because the others 
of his set looked on him with some suspicion. It was his 
way to seek for the redeeming qualities in those the world 
looked coldly on. He did not live to know the worst of 
this now notorious hypocrite and scoundrel. 

In their autumn holiday of 1823, Charles and Mary 
Lamb made an acquaintance destined for the next ten 
years to add a new and most happy interest to their lonely 
lives. They were still faithful to the University towns in 
vacation time, and at the house of a friend in Cambridge, 
where Charles liked to play his evening game at whist, 
they found a little girl, the orphan daughter of Charles 
Isola, one of the Esquire Bedells of the University ; her 
grandfather, an Italian refugee, having settled in Cam- 
bridge as teacher of his own language. The child, who 
was at other times at school, spent her holidays with an 

140 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

aunt in Cambridge. The Lambs toot a strong fancy to 
Iier, invited her to stay -with them during her next holi- 
days, and finally adopted her. She called them uncle and 
aunt, and their house was generally' her home, until her 
marriage with Mr. Moxon, the publisher, in 1833. The 
education of this young, girl became the constant care 
of the brother and sister. They wished to give her the 
means of becoming herself a teacher, in the event of her 
not marrying, and while Charles taught her Latin, Mary 
Lamb worked hard at French that she might assist her 
young pupil. Many are the allusions in the letters of the 
last years to "our Emma;" and as Mary Lamb's periods 
of mental derangement became more and more frequent 
and protracted, this new relationship became ever a greater 
comfort to them both. 

In the meantime Charles was fretting under the unbro- 
ken confinement of office life. " I have been insuperably 
dull and lethargic for many weeks," he writes to Bernard 
Barton early in 1824, "and cannot rise to the vigour of a 
letter, much less an essay. The London must do without 
me for a time, for I have lost all interest* about it." A 
subsequent letter, in August, tells the same tale of increas- 
ing weariness. "The same indisposition ' to write has 
stopped my 'Elias,' but you will see a futile effort in the 
next number, ' wrung from me with slow pain.' The fact 
is, my head is seldom cool enough. I am dreadfully in- 
dolent." The " futile effort " in the next number was no 
other than the beautiful essay on Blakesmoor, fresh proof 
(if any were needed), that "difficult writing" need not 
make itself felt as such by the reader. Nothing more 
unforced in style ever came from Charles Lamb's hand — 
no sentences more perfect in feeling and expression than 
those with which it ends : 


"Mine, too — ^whose else? — the costly fruit- garden, with its sun- 
baked southern wall ; the aropler pleasure-garden, rising backwards 
from the house in triple terraces, with flower-pots, now of palest lead, 
save that a speck, here and there, saved from the elements, bespoke 
their pristine state to have been gilt and glittering; the verdant 
quarters, backwarder still ; and, stretching still beyond, in old for- 
mality, the firry wilderness, the haunt of the squirrel and the day- 
long-murmuring wood-pigeon, with that antique image in the centre, 
god or goddess I wist not ; but child of Athens or old Rome paid 
never a siucerer worship to Pan or to Sylvanus in their native groves, 
than I to that fragmental mystery. 

" Was it for this that I kissed my childish hands too fervently in 
your idol worship, walks and windings of Blakesmoor ! for this, or 
what sin of mine, has the plough passed over your pleasant places ? 
I sometimes think that as men, when they die, do not die all, so of 
their extinguished habitations there may be a hope — a germ to be 

The " firry wiljierness " still remains, and in the grassy 
meadow where house and garden once stood may faintly 
be traced the undulations of the ground where the triple 
terraces rose backwards; but this is all ol the actual 
Blakesmoor that survives. Yet in this very essay Lamb 
has fulfilled his own happy vision, and revivified for all 
time that " extinguished habitation." ^ 

In spite of indolenc^ and low; spirits, the hand of Lamb 
had not lost its cunning, as the pretty Album verses writ- 
ten for Bernard Barton's daughter, Lucy, suflaciently tes- 
tify. They were sent to Barton at the end of this month, 
September. "I am ill at these numbers," he pleaded, 
"but if the above be not too mean to have a place in thy 
daughter's sanctum, take them with pleasure." The lines 
are interesting, as giving another proof of Lamb's native 
sympathy with the Quaker simplicity. His Elia essay on 
the Quakers' Meeting has shown it. He had impressed 
Leigh Hunt, when a boy, by his Quaker-Jike demeanour. 

142 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

He had conveyed to Hood, we remember, on their first 
meeting, the idea of a " Quaker in black." He had told 
Barton in an earlier letter, " In feelings, and matters not 
dogmatical, I hope I am half a Quaker." And here, tak- 
ing the word Album, as text, "little book, surnamed of 
White," he descants on the themes alone fitted to find 
shelter in such a home : 

" Whitest thoughts, in whitest dress. 
Candid meanings, best express 
Mind of quiet Quakeress." 

In February and March of the following year, his letters 
to Barton — the correspondent who now drew forth his best 
and most varied powers — show that the desire for rest was 
becoming irritably strong. " Your gentleman brother sets 
my mouth watering after liberty. Oh that I were kicked 
out of Leadenhall with every mark of indignity, and a 
competence in my fob. The birds of the air wonld not 
be so free as I should. How I would prance and curvet 
it, and pick up cowslips, and ramble about purposeless as 
an idiot !" Later in March we learn that he had conveyed 
to the Directors of the East India Company his willing- 
ness to resign. " I am sick of hope deferred," he writes. 
" The grand wheel is in agitation that is to turn up ray 
fortune ; but round it rolls, and will turn up nothing. I 
have a glimpse of freedom, of becoming a gentleman at 
large, but I am put off from day to day. I have offered 
my resignation, and it is neither accepted nor rejected. 
Eight weeks am I kept in this fearful suspense. Guess 
what an absorbing state I feel it. I am not conscious of 
the existence of friends, present or absent. The East 
India Directors alone can be that thing to me, or not. I 


have just learned that nothing will be decided this week. 
Why the next ? why any week ?" 

When he wrote these words, the gratification of his 
hopes was nearer than he thought. He can scarcely have 
had any serious anxiety as to the result of his application. 
Some weeks before he had received some kind of intima- 
tion that the matter might be arranged to his satisfaction, 
and his medical friends had certified that failing health 
and spirits made the step at least desirable. But he had 
served only thirty-three years, and it was not unusual for 
clerks to complete a term of forty or fifty years' service, 
so that he may have had some uneasy doubts as to the 
amount of pension. But all doubts were happily dis- 
pelled on the last Tuesday in March, 1825, when the Di- 
rectors sent for him and acquainted him with the resolu- 
tion they had passed. 

Lamb has described this interview in several letters, but ' 
nowhere so fully as in the Elia essay, the Superannuated 
Man, which, after his custom, he at once prepared for the 
next month's London Magazine. With the one exception, 
that he transforms the Directors of the India House into 
a private firm of merchants, and with one or two other 
slight changes of detail, the account seems to be a faith- 
ful version of what actually happened: 

" A week passed in this manner, the most anxious one, I verily be- 
lieve, in my life, when on the evening of the 12th of April, just as 
I was about quitting my desk to go home (it might be about eight 
o'clock) I received an awful summons to attend the presence of the 
whole assembled firm in the formidable back parlour. I thought, 
Now my time has surely come ; I have done for myself. I am going 

to be told that they have no longer occasion for me. L , I could 

see, smiled at the terror I was in, which was a little relief to me ; 

when to my utter astonishment, B , the eldest partner, began a 

formal harangue to me on the length of my services, my very meri- 

144 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

torious cdnduct during the whole of the time (the deuce, thought I, 
how did he find out that? I protest I never had the confidence to 
think as much). He went on to descant on tlie expediency of retiring 
at a certain time of life (how my heart panted !), and asking me a few 
questions as to the amount of my own property, of which I have a 
little, ended with a proposal, to which his three partners nodded a 
grave assent, that I should accept from the house which I had served 
so well a pension for life to the amount of two-thirds of my accus- 
tomed salary — a magnificent offer t I do not know what I answered 
between surprise and gratitude, but it was understood that I accept- 
ed their proposal, and I was told that I was free from that hour to 
leave their service. I stammered out a bow, and at just ten minutes ' 
after eight I went home — for ever." 

The munificence thus recorded was happily no fiction. 
Lamb's full salary at the time was little short of seven 
hundred a year, and the offer made to him was a pension 
of four hundred and fifty, with a deduction of nine pounds 
a year to secure a fitting provision for his sister, in the 
event of her surviving him. "Here am I," he writes to 
Wordsworth, " after thirty-three years' slavery, sitting in 
my own room at eleven o'clock, this finest of all April 
mornings, a freed man, with 441/. a year for the remain- 
der of my life, live I as long as John Dennis, who outlived 
Ills annuity, and starved at ninety." 

The East India Directors seem to have been generous 
and considerate in a marked degree. If they wished to 
pay some compliment to literature in the person of their 
distinguished clerk, it was not less to their credit. But in 
sj)ite of Lamb's modest language as to his oflBcial claims 
upon their kindness, it would seem that he served them 
steadily and faithfully during those thirty -three years. 
Siive for his brief annual holiday, he stuck to his post, 
lie wrote his letters from the desk in Leadenhall Street, 
and received some of his callers there, but there is nothing 


to show that he neglected his daily work. He had some- 
times to tell of headache and indisposition, as when he 
had been dining with the poets the night before, where 
they had not " quaffed Hippocrene, but Hippocrass rath- 
er." And there is a tradition — not to be too curiously 
questioned — that on occasion of being reproved for com- 
ing to the office late in the mornings, he pleaded that he 
made up for it by going away very early. But these pec- 
cadilloes are as nothing set against the long extent of act- 
ual service, and the hearty and spontaneous action of his 
employeis at its close. 

Though Lamb had always fretted against what he call- 
ed his slavery to the " desk's dead wood," the discipline 
of regular, and even of mechanical work, was of infinite 
service to him. With his special temperament, bodily 
and mental, he needed, of all men, the compulsion of 
duty. The " unchartered freedom " and the " weight of 
chance desires," which his friend Wordsworth has so 
feelingly lamented, would have been shipwreck to him. 
When deliverance from the necessity of toil came, he 
could not altogether resist their baneful effects. And we 
may be sure that we should not have had more, but few- 
er Essays of Elia, if the daily routine of different labour 
had been less severe or regular. He was well paid for 
the best of his literary work, but there was no pressure 
upon him to write for bread. "Thank God," he writes 
to Bernard Barton, " you and I are something besides be- 
ing writers ! There is corn in Egypt, while there is cash 
at Leadenhall !" 




" I CAME home for ever on Tuesday in last weet," Lamb 
writes to Wordsworth, on the 6th of April, 1825. "The 
incomprehensibleness of my condition overwhelmed me. 
It was like passing from life into eternity. Every year 
to be as long as three, i. e., to have three times as much 
real time — time that is my own, in it ! I wandered about 
thinking I was happy, but feeling I was not. But that 
tumultuousness is passing off, and I begin to understand 
the nature of the gift. Holidays, even the annual month, 
were always uneasy joys : their conscious f ugitiveness ; 
the craving after making the most of them. Now, when 
all is holiday, there are no holidays. I can sit at home, 
in rain or shine, without a restless impulse for walkings. 
I am daily steadying, and shall soon find it as natural to 
me to be my own master, as it has been irksome to have 
had a master. Mary wakes every morning with an obscure 
feeling that some good has happened to us." 

Certain misgivings as to the consequences of the step he 
had taken are apparent here, even in his words of congrat- 
ulation. They appear elsewhere, as in a letter to Barton 
of the same month, where he tells how the day before he 


had gone back and sat at his old desk among his old com- 
panions, and felt yearnings at having left them in the lurch. 
Still, he was forcing himself to take the most hopeful view 
of the change in his life, and the essay on the Superannu- 
ated Man, that appeared a month later in the London, 
elaborates with excellent skill the feelings which he wish- 
ed to cultivate and preserve. " A man can never have too 
much Time to himself, nor too little to do. Had I a little 
son, I would christen him Nothing-to-do ; he should do 
nothing. Man, I verily believe, is out of his element as 
long as he is operative. I am altogether for the life con- 

One of the earliest nses that he made of his freedom 
was to pay visits out of London with Mary. In the sum- 
mer they are at Enfield, having quiet holidays. "Mary 
walks her twelve miles a day some days," Charles writes 
to Southey in August, " and I ray twenty on others. 'Tis 
all holiday with me now, you know. The change works 
admirably." But as time went on, the change was found 
to be less admirable. The spur and the discipline of reg- 
ular hours and occupation being taken away, Lamb had 
to make occupation, or else to find amusement in its stead. 
He had been always fond of walking, and he now tried the 
experiment of a companion in his walks in the shape of a 
dog. Dash, that Hood had given him. But the dog proved 
unmanageable, and was fond of running away down any oth- 
er streets than those intended by his master, and Lamb had 
to part with him a year or two later in despair. He passed 
Dash on to Mr. Patmore, and to this change of ownership 
we owe the amusing letter in which he writes for infor- 
mation as to the dog's welfare. "Dear P., excuse my 
anxiety, but how is Dash? I should have asked if Mrs. 
Patmore kept her rules, and was improving ; but Dash 

148 CHAELES LAMB. [chap. 

eame uppermost. The order of our thought should be 
the order of our writing. Goes he muzzled, or aperto ore ? 
Are his intellects sound, or does he wander a little in. A«s 
conversation? You cannot be too careful to watch the 
first symptoms of incoherence. The first illogical snarl 
he makes — to St. Luke's with him. All the dogs here are 
going mad, if you can believe the overseers : but I pro- 
test, they seem to me very rational and collected. But 
nothing is so deceitful as mad people, to those who are 
not used to them. Try him with hot water ; if he won't 
lick it up it is a sign — he does not like it. Does his tail 
wag horizontally, or perpendicularly? That has decided 
the fate of many dogs in Enfield. Is his general deport- 
ment cheerful ? I mean when he is pleased, for otherwise 
there is no judging. You can't be too careful. Has 
he bit any of the children yet? If he has, have them 
shot, and keep him for curiosity, to see if it is the hydro- 
phobia " — and so this " excellent fooling " rambles on into 
still wilder extravagances. " We are dawdlirg our time 
away .very idly and pleasantly," the letter concludes, " at 
a Mrs. Leishman's, Chace, Enfield, where if you come a 
hunting, we can give you cold meat and a tankard." For 
two years from the time of his leaving the India House, the 
brother and sister paid occasional visits to Mrs. Leishman's 
lodgings, until, finally, in 1827, they became sole tenants 
of the little house, furnished. 

The year 1827 opened sadly for Charles and Mary Lamb. 
Since the death of their father, thirty years before, they 
had not had to mourn the loss of many friends connected 
with their early life. Their brother John had died five 
years before — but he had helped to make their real lone- 
liness felt, rather than to relieve it — and they had no oth- 
er near relations. But there was one dear friend of the 


family, who had been associated, with them in their sea- 
sons of heaviest sorrow and hardest struggle. This was 
Mr. Randal Norris, for many years sub-treasurer and libra- 
rian of the Inner Temple, whose name has occurred so 
often in Lamb's letters and essays. The families of Nor- 
ris and Lamb were united by more than one bond of friend- 
ship. They were neighbours in the Temple for many 
years, and Mrs. Norris was a native of Widford, and a 
friend of the old houseteeper at Blakesware. And now 
Charles writes to Crabb Robinson to tell him that this, 
his oldest friend, is dying. " In him I have a loss the 
world cannot make up. He was my friend and my fa- 
ther's friend all the life I can remember. I seem to have 
made foolish friendships ever since. These are friend- 
ships whicb outlive a second generation. Old as I am 
waxing, in his eyes I was still tlie child he first knew me. 
To the last he called me Charley. I have none to call me 
Charley now. He was the last link that bound me to the 
Temple. Yon are but of yesterday. In him seem to have 
died the old plainness of manners and singleness of heart." 
In a few days the lingering illness was over, and the old 
friend was laid to rest in the Temple Church-yavd. 

During the year that followed, Lamb found a congenial 
occupation, and a healthy substitute for his old regular 
hours, in working daily at the British Museum. He wished 
to assist Hone, the editor of the Every Bay Book, and 
undertook to make extracts, on the plan of his former vol- 
umes of Dramatic Specimens, from the collection of plays 
bequeathed by Garrick to the British Museum, for publi- 
cation in Hone's Table Book. " It is a sort of office-work 
to me," he writes to Barton, " hours, ten to four, the same. 
It does me good. Man must have regular occupation that 
has been used to it." The extracts thus chosen were con- 


fessedly but gleanings after the earlier volumes, and in the 
scanty comments prefixed to them there is a correspond- 
ing falling off in interest. The remark upon Gorboduc, 
that " there may be flesh and blood underneath, but we 
cannot get at it," shows the old keenness of observation. 
And it is pleasant to hear him repeat once more that the 
plays of Shakspeare have been the " strongest and sweet- 
est food of his mind from infancy." But the real impetus 
to the study of the Great Elizabethans had been given in 
the volumes of 1808. 

A series of short essays contributed in this same year 
to the JVew Monthly Magazine^ under the title of Popular 
Fallacies, are for the most part of slight value. The one 
of these that was the author's favourite is suggested by 
the saying that " Home is home, though it is never so 
homely." The first exception that he propounds to the 
truth of this maxim is in the case of the " very poor." 
To places of cheap entertainment, and the benches of ale- 
houses, Lamb says, the poor man " resorts for an image of 
the home which he cannot find at home." Very touch- 
ing is the picture he goes on to draw of the discrepancy 
between the " humble meal shared together," as described 
by the sentimentalist, and the grim irony of the actual 
facts. " The innocent prattle of his children takes out 
the sting of a man's poverty. But the children of the 
very poor do not prattle. It is none of the least frightful 
features in that condition that there is no childishness in 
its dwellings. Poor people, said a sensible nurse to us 
once, do not bring up their children, they drag them up." 
The whole passage is in a strain of more sustained earnest- 
ness than is usual with Lamb, and serves to show how 
widely his sympathetic heart had travelled. From this 
theme he turns to one which touched his own circum- 


stances more nearly. There is yet another home, he says, 
which gives the lie to the popular saying. It may have 
all the material comforts that are wanting to the poor 
man, all its fireside conveniences, and yet be no home. 
" It is the house of the man that is infested with many 
visitors." And he goes on to draw the distinction be- 
tween the noble-hearted friends that are always welcome, 
and the purposeless droppers in at meal-time, or just at 
the moment that you have sat down to a book. " They 
have a peculiarily compassionating sneer with which they 
hope that they do not interrupt your studies." It is Charles 
Lamb himself who is here publishing to the world the old 
grievance, which appears so constantly in his letters. He 
was being driven from Islington by the crowd of callers 
and droppers in, from whom he professed his inability to 
escape in any other way. Hardly is he settled at Enfield, 
in August, 1827, when he has to protest that the swarm of 
gnats follows him from place to place. " Whither can I 
take wing," he writes to Barton, " from the oppression of 
human faces ? Would I were in a wilderness of apes, toss- 
ing cocoa-nuts about, grinning and grinned at !" 

There is reason to believe, as already observed, that 
Lamb was in part responsible for these idle trespassers 
upon his time. He had not had the courage to keep 
them off when his days were fully occupied, and his even- 
ings were his only time for literature ; and now, when he 
passed for a man wholly at leisure, it was not likely that 
the annoyance would diminish. But the truth is, there 
was an element of irritability in Lamb, due to the family 
temperament, which the new life, though he could now 
" wander at his own sweet will," was little calculated to 
appease. The rest of which he dreamed, when he retired 
in the prime of life from professional work, could only 

152 CHABLES LAMB. [chap. 

moan, to such,a teinperament as Lamb's, restlessness. He 
looked for relief from many troubles in the mere circum- 
stance of change. It was the coelum, non animum, disillu- 
sion that so many have had to experience. And at the 
same time he hated having to break with old associations', 
and to part from anything to which he had been long ac- 
customed. When he moved to Enfield, in the autumn of 
1827, he wrote to Hood that he had had "mo health" at 
Islington, and having found benefit from previous visits 
at Enfield, was going to make his abode there altogether. 
But, he adds, " 'twas with some pain we were evnlsed from 
Colebrook. To change habitations is to die to them ; and 
in my time I have died seven deaths. But I don't know 
whether such change does not bring with it a rejuvenes- 
cence. 'Tis an enterprise ; and shoves back the sense of 
death's approximating, which though not terrible to me, is 
at all times particularly distasteful." The letter ends in a 
more cheerful vein, with news of ten pounds a year less 
rent than at Islington, and many anticipations of occasion- 
al trips to London " to breathe the fresher air of the me- 
tropolis," and of the curds and cream he and Mary would 
set before Hood and Jerdan and other London friends who 
might visit them in their country home. Some of these 
joys were to be realized, and there are many signs of the 
old humour and fancy not having been altogether banish- 
ed by the separation from London interests and friends. 
Mrs. Shelley meets him in town in August, 1828, and writes 
to Leigh Hunt : " On my return to the Strand, I saw Lamb> 
who was very entertaining and amiable, thougli a little 
deaf. One of the first questions he asked me was, wheth- 
er they made puns in Italy. I said 'Yes, now Hunt is 
there.' He said that Burney made a pun in Otaheite, the 
first that ever was made in that country. At first the na- 


tives could not make out what he itiearit ; but all at once 
they discovered the pun, and danced round him in trans- 
ports .of joy." 

Lamb's work in literature was novr substantially over, 
and he did little more than trifle with it, pleasantly and 
ingeniously, for the last few years. The London Magazine, 
after a long decay, and many changes of management, 
came to an end in 1826; and though some of Lamb's 
later contribiitions to the New Monthly and the English- 
man s Magazine were included in the Last Ussaifs of Mia, 
collected and published in 1833, JSlia may be said to have 
been born, and to have died, witb the London Magazine. 
In 1828 he wrote, at the request of the wife of Thomas 
Hood, who had lately lost a child, the well-inown lines, 
On an infant dging as soon as' 6or», redolent of the spirit 
and fancy of Ben Jonson and the later Elizabethans, and 
though, written to order showing no lack of spontaneity. 
He continued to supply his young lady friends with acrbs- 
tlcs and other such contributions to their albums. He 
sufEered, as he alleged, terrible things from albums at this 
time. They were another of the taxes he found ruthless- 
ly exacted from " retired leisure." He writes to Procter 
in 1829: 

" We are in the last ages of the world,- when St. Paul prophesied 
that women should be ' headstrong, lovers of their own wills, having 
albums.' I fled hither to escape the albumean persecution, and had 
not been in' my new house twenty-four hours when the daughter of 
the neit house came in with a friend's album to beg a contribution, 
and the following day intimated she had one of her own. Two more 
have sprung up since. If I take the wings of the morning, and fly 
unto the uttermost parts of the earth, there will albums be. New 
Holland has albums. But the age is to be complied with." 

He so far complied with the age as to produce enough, 

154 CHAELES LAMB. [chap. 

■with a few occasional verses of other kinds, to mate a 
little volume for his friend Moxon, then newly starting 
as a publisher, to issue in appropriate shape, in 1830. 

The "new house" spoken of in the letter just quoted 
•was the Enfield house already mentioned ; but in the sum- 
mer of 1829 Charles and Mary Lamb again changed their 
home. The sister's illnesses were becoming more frequent 
and more protracted, and the cares of housekeeping weighed 
too heavily on her. Their old servant, Becky, had mar- 
ried and left them, and they were little contented with 
her successor. There is a gloomy letter of Charles to 
his constant correspondent Barton, in July of this year, 
telling how time was not lightening the diflSculties of a 
man with no settled occupation. He had been paying 
a visit in London, but even London was not what it had 
been : 

" The streets, the shops, are left, but all old friends are gone. . . . 
When I took leave of our adopted young friend at Charing Cross, 
'twas heavy, unfeeling rain, and I had nowhere to go. Home have 
I none, and not a sympathizing house to turn to in the great city. 
Never did the waters of heaven pour down on a forlorner head. . . . 
I got home on Thursday, convinced that I was better to get home to 
my home at Enfield, and hide like a sick cat in my corner. And to 
make me more alone, our ill-t«mpered maid is gone, who, with all her 
airs, was yet a home-piece of furniture, a record of better days ; the 
young thing that has succeeded her is good and attentive, but she is 
nothing. And I have no one here to talk over old matters with. . . . 
What I can do, and do over-do, is to walk ; but deadly long are the 
days, these summer all-day days, with but a half-hour's candle-light 
and no fire-light. ... I pity you for overwork, but I assure you no 
work is worse. The mind preys on itself — the most unwholesome 
food. I bragged formerly that I could not have too much time. I 
have a surfeit. With few years to come, the days are wearisome. 
But weariness is not eternal. Something will shine out to take the 
load off that flags me, which is at present intolerable. I have killed 


an hour or two in this poor scrawl. 1 am a sanguinary murderer of 
time, and would kill him inch-meal just now. But the snake is vital. 
Well, I shall write merrier anon." 

A letter of a week or two before Lad given sadder rea- 
sons for this depression of spirits. Mary Lamb had again 
been taken ill, and it had been necessary to remove her 
from home : 

"I have been very desolate indeed. My loneliness is a little 
abated by our young friend Emma having just come here for her 
holidays, and a schoolfellow of hers that was with her. Still the 
house is not the same, though she is the same." 

It was these repeated illnesses of his sister, and the loss 
of their old servant, that made them resolve to give up 
house-keeping, and take lodgings next door ("Forty-two 
inches nearer town," Lamb said), with an old couple, a Mr. 
and Mrs. Westwood, who undertook to board as well as 
lodge them. " We have both had much illness this year," 
he wrote to a friend, " and feeling infirmities and fretf ul- 
pess grow upon us, we have cast o£E the cares of house- 
keeping, sold off our goods, and commenced boarding and 
lodging with a very comfortable old couple next door to 
where you found us. We use a sort of common table. 
Nevertheless, we have reserved a private one for an old 
friend." In less than a week he was able to report the 
good effect of the change upon Mary. " She looks two 
and a half years younger for it. But we have had sore 

The next year opens with a letter to Wordsworth de- 
scribing the new menage, and containing a charming pict- 
ure of the old couple who now were host and hostess as 
well as landlords : 

166 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

" Our providers are an honest pair, Dame Westwdod and her hus- 
band ; he, when the light of prosperity shined on them, a moderately 
thriving haberdasher within Bow Bells, yetired since with something 
under a competence ; writes himself parcel gentleman ; hath borne 
parish offices ; sings fine old sea-songs at threescore and ten ; sighs 
only now and then when he thinks that he has a son on his hands 
about fifteen, whom he finds a difficulty in getting out into the world ; 
and then checks a sigh with muttering, as I once heard him prettily, 
not meaning to be heard, ' I have married my daughter, however ;' 
takes the weather as it comes ; outsides it to town in severest season ; 
and o' winter nights tells old stories, not tending to literature (how 
comfortable to author-rid folks !), and has one anecdote, upon which 
and about forty pounds a year he seems to have retired in green old 

The letter gives encouraging news of his sister's health 
and spirits, but the loneliness and the want of occupation 
are pressing heavily, he says, upon himself. He yearns 
for London and the cheerful streets. "Let no native Lon- 
doner imagine that health and rest, innocent occupation, 
interchange of converse sweet, and recreative study, can 
make the country anything better than altogether odious 
and detestable." Later, in March, his thoughts are divert- 
ed from his own condition by the illness of Miss Isola; 
and a proposal from John Murray to continue the Speci- 
mens of the Old Dramatists is declined, because in his anx- 
iety for their young protegee he could think of nothing 
else. Miss Isola happily recovered. Lamb fetched ■ her 
from Suffolk, where the illness had occurred, to Enfield, 
and it was on the journey borne that the famous stage- 
coach incident occurred. " We travelled with one o'f those 
troublesome fellow-passengers in a stage coach that is call- 
ed a well-informed man. For twenty miles we discoursed 
about the properties of steam, probabilities of carriage by 
ditto, till all my science, and rnore than all, was exhatisted, 
and I was thinking of escaping uiy torment by getting up 


on the outside, when, getting into Bishop Stortford, my 
gentleman, spying some farming land, put an unlucky 
question to me: ' What sort of crop of turnips I thought 
we should have this year?' Emma's eyes tiivned to me, 
to know \vhat in the world I could have to, say; and she 
burst into a violent fit of laughter, raaugre hor pale serious 
cheeks, when with the greatest gravity I replied that 'It 
depended,; I believed, upon boiled legs of mutton.'" ■ 

There is little to record of incident or change in 'these 
last years of the life, now more and more lonely, of 
brother and sisSter. A small volume of occasional poetryy 
Album P'eises — the amusements of the latter jrearS of leis- 
ure^ — was produced by Mr. Moxou' in 1830, but contains 
little to call for remark; and another venture of Mr. 
Moxoii's,' The Englishman's Magasine, in the following 
year, drew from Lamb some prose contributions, linder 
the heading of Peter's Net. In 1833, the Lambs made 
their last change of residence. Their furniture haid been 
disposed of when they settled at Enfield, and they now 
entered on an arrangement similar to the last, of boarding ■ 
and lodging with' another married pair — yomiger, how- 
ever, and more active — a Mr. and Mrs. Walden, of Bay 
Cottage, in the neighbouring parish of Edmonton. The 
reasons for the ebange are of the old sad kind. A let- 
ter to Wordsworth, of May, 1833, tells the melancholy 
story i " Mary is ill again. Her illnesses encroach yearly. 
The last was three months, followed by two of de'pressioii 
most dreadful. I look back upon her earlier attacks with 
longing. Nice little; durations of six weeks or so, folr 
lowed by complete restoration, shocking as they were to 
me then. In short, half her life is dead to me, and the 
Other half is made anxious with fears and lookings for- . 
ward to the next shock." Mary Lamb had been on for- 

188 CHARLES LAMB. [cbap. 

mer occasions of illness under tLe care of the Waldens, and 
the increasing frequency of her attacks made this change 
necessary in the interest of both brother and sister. It 
secured for Mary the constant supervision of an attendant. 
The same letter tells of an additional element of lone- 
liness that was in store for them. Emma Isola was en- 
gaged " with my perfect approval and entire concurrence " 
to Mr. Moxon, the publisher, and the wedding was fixed. 
Lamb writes of it with the old habitual unselfishness, 
though it was to leave him without his " only walk-com- 
panion, whose mirthful spirits were the 'youth of our 
house.' " He turns, after his manner, to think of his 
compensations. He is emancipated from Enfield, with 
attentive people and younger, and what is more, is three 
or four miles nearer to his beloved town. Miss Isola was 
married on the 30th of July, and it is pleasant to know 
that though up to the very day of the wedding Mary 
Lamb had been unable to interest herself in the event, and 
was of course unable to be -present at the ceremony, she 
attributes her recovery from this attack to the stimulus of 
the good news suddenly communicated. There is a pa- 
thetic note of congratulation from her to the newly-mar- 
ried pair, in which she tells them of this with characteris- 
tic simplicity. The Waldens had with happy tact pro- 
posed Mr. and Mrs. Moxon's health, at their quiet meal. 
" It restored me from that moment," writes Mary Lamb, 
" as if by an electrical stroke, to the entire possession of 
my senses. I never felt so calm and quiet after a similar 
illness as I do now. I feel as if all tears were wiped from 
my eyes, and all care from my heart." And Charles is 
able to add, in a postscript, how they are again happy in 
their old pursuits — cards, walks, and readiug : " never was 
such a calm, or such a recovery." 


In this year 1833 the later essays of Lamb contributed 
to the London Magazine, together with some shorter 
pieces from other periodicals, -were published by Mr. 
Moxon, under the title of the Last Essays of Mia, and 
■with this event the literary life of Lamb was destined to 
close. Nothing more, beyond' an occasional copy of verses 
for a friend, came from his pen. Notwithstanding the 
increasing illness of his sister, he was able to enjoy some 
cheerful society, notably with a friend of recent date, 
Mr. Gary, the translator of Dante, with whom he dined 
periodically at the British Museum. Mr. John Forster, 
afterwards to be known widely as the author of the Life 
of Goldsmith, was another accession to his list of congenial 
friends. But these could not make compensation for the 
loss of the old. Lamb was not yet sixty years of age, 
but he was without those ties and relationships which 
more than all else we know bring "forward-looking 
thoughts." His life was lived chiefly in the past, and one 
by one " the old familiar faces " were passing away. In 
July, 1834, Coleridge died, after many months of suffer- 
ing. For the last eighteen years of his life he had resided 
beneath Mr. Gillman's roof at Highgate, and Charles and 
Mary Lamb were among the most welcome visitors at the 
house : and now the friendship of fifty years was at an 
end. All the little asperities of early rivalry ; all the nat- 
ural regrets at sight of a life so wasted — powers so vast 
ending in performance so inadequate — a spirit so willing, 
and a will so weak — were forgotten now. Lamb had never 
spared the foibles of his old companion ; when Coleridge 
had soared to his highest metaphysical flights he had 
^apologized for him — "Yes! you know Coleridge is so full 
of his fun ;" — he had described him as an " archangel, a 
little damaged ;" — but the indescribable moral afflatus felt 

160 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

through Coleridge's obscurest rhapsodies had been among 
the best influences on Charles Lamb's life. A few months 
later he tried to put his regrets and his obligations into 
words. " When I heard of the death of Coleridge, it was 
without grief. It seemed to me that he had long been on 
the confines of the next world — that he had a hunger for 
eternity. I grieved then that I could not grieve ; but 
since, I feel how great a part he was of me. His great 
and dear spirit haunts mc. I cannot think a thought, I 
cannot make a criticism on men or books, without an in- 
efiectual turning and reference to him. He was the proof 
and touchstone of all my cogitations." 

The death of his friend was Charles Lamb's death- 
blow. There had been two persons in the world for whom 
he would have wished to live — Coleridge and his sister 
Mary. The latter was now for the greater part of each 
year worse than dead to him. The former was gone, and 
the blank left him helplessly alone. In conversation with 
friends he would suddenly exclaim, as if with surprise 
that aught else in the world should interest him, " Cole- 
ridge is dead 1" And within five weeks of the day when 
the touching tribute just cited was committed to paper, 
he was called to join his friend. One day in the middle 
of December, as he was taking his usual walk along the 
London road, his foot struck against a stone, and he 
stumbled and fell, inflicting a slight wound on his face. 
For some days the injury appeared trifling, and on the 
22nd of the month he writes a cheerful note to the wife 
of his old friend George Dyer, concerning the safety of a 
certain book belonging to Mr. Cary, which he had left at 
her house. On the same day, however, symptoms of ery- 
sipelas supervened, and it soon became evident that his 
general health was too feeble to resist the attack. From 


the first appearance of the disease the failure of life was 
so rapid that his intimate friends, Talfourd and Crabb 
Eobinson, did not reach his bedside in time for him to 
recognize them. The few words that escaped his lips 
while his mind was still unclouded conveyed to those who 
watched him that he was undisturbed at the prospect of 
death. His sister was, happily for herself, in no state to 
feel or appreciate the blow that was falling. On the 27th 
of December, murmuring in his last moments the names 
of his dearest friends, he passed tranquilly out of life. 
" On the following Saturday his remains were laid in a 
deep grave in Edmonton church-yard, made in a spot 
which, about a fortnight before, he had pointed out to his 
sister, on an afternoon wintry walk, as the place where he 
wished to be buried." 

There is a touching fitness in the circumstance that 
Charles Lamb could not longer survive his earliest and 
dearest friend — that, trying it for a little while, " he liked 
it not — and died." It was a fitting comment on the cir- 
cumstance, that that other great poet and thinker who 
next to Coleridge shared Lamb's deepest pride and affec- 
tion, as he looked back a year afterwards on the gaps that 
death had made in the ranks of those he loved, should have 
once more linked their names in imperishable verse : 

" Nor has the rolling year twice measured 
From sign to sign its steadfast course. 
Since every mortal power of Coleridge 
Was frozen at its marvellous source. 

" The rapt one of the godlike forehead. 
The heaven-eyed creature, sleeps in earth : 
And Lamb, the frolic and the gentle. 
Has vanished from his lonely hearth." 

162 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

The friends of Lamb were not slow in giving expression 
to their sorrow for his loss, and their admiration of his 
character — Wordsworth and Landor in verse, Procter, 
Moxon, Forster, and many others through various channels, 
in prose. For the most part they had to deal in generali- 
ties, for Mary Lamb still lived, and the full extent of her 
brother's devotion and sacrifice could not yet be told. 
But abundant testimony was forthcoming that (to borrow 
Lander's words) he had left behind him that " worthier 
thing than tears," 

" The love of friends, without a single foe." 

Wordsworth, in a beautiful tribute to his friend, begun 

with some view to an inscription for his grave, expressed 

no more than the verdict of all who knew hint well, when 

he wrote, 

" Oh, he was good, if ever good man was." 

And yet there must have been many of his old acquaint- 
ances who were startled at finding admiration for him thus 
expressed. Those who were not aware of the conditions 
of his life, or knew him only on his ordinary convivial side, 
regarded him, we are assured, as a flippant talker, reckless 
indeed in speech, moody, and of uncertain temper. Few 
could know what Coleridge and Wordsworth and Southey 
knew so well, that with all his boastful renunciation of 
orthodoxy in belief, and his freedom of criticism on relig- 
ious matters, he was one capable of feeling keenly both the 
sentiment and the principle of religious trust. There is 
ample evidence of this in those early letters written in the 
darkest hours of his life. And though the sentiment 
waned as a different class of associates gathered round 
him, and there were few at hand with whom to inter- 
change his deeper thoughts, religion in him never died, 


but became a habit — a habit of enduring hardness, and 
cleaving to the steadfast performance of duty in face of 
the strongest allurements to the pleasanter and easier 
course. He set himself a task, one of the saddest and 
hardest that can be undertaken, to act as guardian and 
companion to one living always on the brink of insanity. 
For eight-and-thirty years he was faithful to this purpose, 
giving up everything for it, and never thinking that he 
had done enough, or could do enough, for his early friend, 
his " guardian angel." 

It is noteworthy that those surface qualities of Charles 
Lamb, by which so many were content to judge him, were 
just those which men are slow to connect with sterling 
goodness such as this. There was a certain Bohemianism 
in him, it roust be allowed — a fondness for overmuch 
tobacco and gin-and-water, and for the company of those 
■whom more particular people looked shy upon. He often 
fretted against the loss of time they caused him, but he 
was tolerant for the) moment of what fed his sense of 
humour or fancy, and always of that which touched the 
" virtue of compassion " in him. He was free of speech, 
and not in the least afraid of shocking his company. And 
it seems a natural inference that such traits betoken a 
hand-to-mouth existence, a certain want of moral backbone, 
irregularity in money matters, and the absence of any set- 
tled purpose. Yet it was for the opposite of all this that 
Lamb's life is so notable. He was well versed in poverty 
— for some years in marked degree — but he seems never 
to have exceeded his income, or to have been in debt. In 
the days of his most straitened means he was never so 
poor but that he had in reserve something to help those 
poorer than himself. His letters show this throughoxit-, 
and as his own fortunes mended, his generosity in giving 

164 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

becomes truly surprising. " He gave away greatly,^' says 
Lis friend Mr. Procter, and goes on to relate how on one 
occasion when he was in low spirits, and Lamb imagined 
that it might proceed from pecuniary causes, he said, sud- 
denly, " My dear boy, I have a quantity of useless things — 
I have now in my desk a — a hundred pounds— that I 
don't know what to do with. Take it." In his more 
prosperous days he always had pensioners on his bounty. 
For many years he allowed his old school-mistress thirty 
pounds a year. To a friend of Southey's, who was para- 
lyzed, he paid ten pounds yearly ; and when a subscription 
was raised for Godwin in his gravest difficulties. Lamb's 
contribution was the munificent one of fifty pounds. His 
letters, too, prove that he could always make the more dif- 
ficult sacrifices of time and thought when others were in 
need. For a young lady establishing a school — for a poor 
fellow seeking an occasional clerkship in the India House 
— for such as these he is continually pleading and taking 
trouble. And before he knew that the directors of the 
India House intended to provide for his sister, in the 
event of her surviving him, on the footing of a wife, he 
had managed to put by a sufiicient sum to place her be- 
yond the reach of want. At his death he left a sum of 
two thousand pounds, for his sister during her life, with 
a reversion to the child of their adoption, Emma Isola, 
then Mrs. Moxon. 

Mary Lamb survived her brother nearly thirteen years, 
dying at the advanced age of 82, on the 20th of May, 
1847. After the death of Charles, her health rallied suf- 
ficiently for her to visit occasionally among their old 
friends; but as years passed, her attacks became still 
more frequent, and of longer duration, till her mind be- 
came permanently enfeebled. After leaving Edmonton, 


she lived chiefly at St. John's Wood, under the care of a 
nurse. Her pension, together with the income from her 
brother's savings, was amply sufiicient for her few needs. 

" She will live for ever in the memory of her friends," 
writes that true and faithful friend, Crabb Robinson, " as 
one of the most amiable and admirable of women." From 
this verdict there is no dissentient voice. "With much less 
from which to form a direct opinion than in her brother's 
case, we seem to read her character almost equally well. 
The tributes of her brother scattered through essay and 
letter, her own few but very significant letters, and her 
contributions to literature, show her strong and healthy 
common-sense, her true womanliness, and her gift of keen 
and active sympathy. She shared with Charles a love of 
Quaker-like colour and homeliness in dress. " She wore 
a neat cap," Mr. Procter tells us, " of the fashion of her 
youth; an old-fashioned dress. Her face was pale and 
somewhat square, but very placid, with grey intelligent 
eyes. She was very mild in her manners to strangers; 
and to her brother, gentle and tender, always. She had 
often an upward look of peculiar meaning when directed 
towards him, as though to give him assurance that all was 
then well with her." This unvarying manner, betokening 
mutual dependence and interest, was the feature that most 
impressed all who watched them together, her eyes often 
fixed on his as on " some adoring disciple," and ever lis- 
tening to help his speech in some difiicult word, and to 
anticipate the coming need. He in turn was always on 
the watch to detect any sign in her face of failing health 
or spirits, and to divert the conversation, if occasion arose, 
from any topic that might distress her or set up some 
dangerous excitement. Among the strange and motley 
guests that their hospitality brought around them, her own 

166 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

opinions and habits remained, with little danger of being 
shaken. " It has been the lot of my cousin,'' writes Lamb 
in the essay Mackery End, " oftener perhaps than I could 
have wished, to have had for her associates, and mine, free 
thinkers, leaders and disciples of novel philosophies and 
systems; but she neither wrangles with, nor accepts their 
opinions. That which was good and venerable to her 
when she was a child, retains its authority over her mind 
still. She never juggles or plays tricks with her under- 
standing." It was this element of quietism in Mary Lamb 
that made her so inestimable a companion for her brother. 
She was strong where he was weak, and reposeful where 
he was so often ill at ease. 

She was indeed fitted in all respects to be Charles 
Lamb's life -long companion. She shared his worthiest 
tastes, to the full. More catholic in her partialities than 
he, she devoured modern books as well as ancient with 
unfailing appetite, and had formed out of her reading a 
pure and idiomatic English style, with just a touch, as 
in everything else belonging to her, of an old-world for- 
mality. She possessed a distinct gift of humour, as her 
portion of Mrs. Leicester's School amply shows. The 
story of the Father's Wedding-day has strokes of humour 
and observation not unworthy of Goldsmith. Landor 
used to rave, with characteristic vehemence, about this 
little sketch, and to declare that the incident of the child 
wishing, when dressed in her new frock, that her poor 
" mamma was alive, to see how fine she was on papa's 
wedding-day," was a masterpiece. The story called The 
Young Mahometan has a special interest as containing 
yet one more recollection of the old house at Blakesware. 
The medallions of the Twelve Caesars, the Hogarth prints, 
and the tapestry hangings, are all there, together with that 


picturesque incident, ■which Charles elsewhere has not over- 
looked, of the broken battledore and shuttlecock, telling 
of happy children's voices that had once echoed through 
the lonely chambers. It is certain that Charles and Mary, 
ardently as they both clung in after years to London sights 
and sounds, owed much both in genius and character to 
having breathed the purer, calmer air of rural homesteads. 
A common education, whether that of sweet garden 
scenes, or the choice fancies and meditations of poet and 
moralist — a sense of mutual need — a profound pity for 
each other's frailties — of these was forged the bond that 
held them, and years of suffering and self-denial had made 
it ever more and more strong. "That we had much to 
struggle with, as we grew up together, we have reason to 
be most thankful. It strengthened and knit our compact 
closer. We could never have been what we have been 
to each other, if we had always had the sufiBciency which 
you now complain of." It is with these words of divine 
philosophy that, when comparative ease had at last been 
achieved, Charles Lamb could look back upon the anxious 


lamb's place as a critic. 

It remains to speak of those prose writings of Lamb, 
many of earlier date than the Essays of Elia, by which 
his quality as a critic must be determined. As early as 
1811 he had published in Leigh Hunt's Be/lector his essay 
on The Genius and Character of Hogarth. This was no 
subject taken np for the occasion. " His graphic repre- 
sentations,'' says Lamb, "' are indeed books ; they have the 
teeming, fruitful, suggestive meaning of words''^ — and no 
book was more familiar to him. A set of Hogarth's prints,' 
including the HarloCs and Rakers Progresses, had been 
among tlie treasures of the old house at Blakesware ; and 
Lamb as a child had spelled through their grim and ghast- 
ly histories again and again, till he came to know every 
iigure and incident in them by heart. And now the cava- 
lier tone in which certain leaders of the classical and histori- 
cal schools of painting were wont to dismiss Hogarth as 
of slight value in point of art, made him keen to vindicate 
his old favourite. He has scant patience with those who 
noted defective drawing or " knowledge of the figure " in 
the artist. He is intolerant altogether of technical criti- 
cism. The essay is devoted to showing how true a moral- 
ist the painter is, and how false the view which would re- 
gard him chiefly as a humourist. He is a great satirist — a 


Juvenal or a Persius. Moreover, he is a combination of 
satirist and dramatist. Hogarth had claimed for his pict- 
ures that they should be judged as successive scenes in a 
play, and Lamb takes him at his word. He is carried 
away by admiration for the tragic power displayed. He 
is in ecstasies over the print of Gin Lane, certainly one of 
the poorest of Hogarth's pictures as a composition, losing 
its due effect by overcrowding of incident, and made gro- 
tesque through sheer exaggeration. Yet, what stirs the 
critic's heart is " the pity of it," and he is in no humour 
to admit otlier considerations. He calls it "a sublime 
print." " Every part is full of strange images of death ; 
it is perfectly amazing and astounding to look at;" and 
so forth. It is noticeable that Lamb does not write with 
the pictures before him, and trusts to a memory not quite 
trustworthy. For example, to prove that Hogarth is not 
merely repulsive, that there is always a sweet humanity in 
reserve as a foil for the horrors he deals with — something 
to " keep the general air from tainting," he says : " Take 
the mild, supplicating posture of patient poverty, in the 
poor woman that is persuading the pawnbroker to accept 
her clothes in pledge in the plate of Oin Lane.'''' There is 
really no such incident in the picture. There is a woman 
offering in pawn her kettle and fire-irons; but, taken in 
combination with all the other incidents of the scene, she 
is certainly pledging them to buy gin. Here, as elsewhere. 
Lamb damages his case by over-statement, partly through 
love of surprises, partly because he willingly discovered in 
poem or picture what he wished to find there. He sees 
more of humanity and sweetness in what affects him than 
is actually present. He reads something of himself into 
the composition he is reviewing. He is on safer ground 
■when he dwells on the genuine power, the pity and the 

170 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

terror, in tbat last scene but one of The Marriaffe-tt-lor 
Mode; and on the gentleness of the wife's countenance, 
poetizing the whole scene, in the print of The Distressed 
Poet. And he is doing a service to art of larger scope 
than fixing the respective ranks of Hogarth and Poussin, 
in these noble concluding lines : 

" I say not that all the ridiculous subjects of Hogarth have neces- 
sarily something in them to mal^e us lil^e them ; some are indifferent 
to us, some in their natures repulsive, and only made interesting by 
the wonderful skill and truth to nature in the painter ; but I contend 
that there is in most of them that sprinkling of the better nature 
which, like holy water, chases away and disperses the contagion of 
the bad. They have this in them besides, that they bring us ac- 
quainted with the every-day human face ; they give us skill to detect 
those gradations of sense and virtue (which escape the careless or 
fastidious observer) in the countenances of the world about us ; and 
prevent that disgust at common life, that tcedium qiMtidiananim for- 
marum, which an unrestricted passion for ideal forms and beauties is 
in danger of producing." 

His judgments of pictures are, as might be expected, 
those of a man of letters, not of a painter. It is the story 
in the picture that impresses hira, and the technical quali- 
ties leave him unmoved. A curious instance of this is af- 
forded in his essay on The Barrenness of the Imaginative 
Fa/cvblty in the Productions of Modern Art. After com- 
plaining that, with the exception of Hogarth, no artist 
•within the last fifty years had treated a story imagirMtiv&- 
ly — "upon whom his subject has so acted that it has 
seemed to direct him, not to be arranged by him " — he 
breaks out into a fine rhapsody on the famous Bacchus 
and Ariadne of Titian in the National Gallery. But it is 
not as a masterpiece of colour and drawing that it excites 
his admiration. The qualities of the poet, not those of 


the painter, are wLat he discovers in it. It is the " imag- 
inative faculty " which he detects, as shown in the power 
of uniting the past and the present. " Precipitous, with his 
reeling satyr-rout around him, re-peopling and re-illuming 
suddenly the waste places, drunk with a new fury beyond 
the grape, Bacchus, born of fire, fire-like flings himself at 
the Cretan:" this is the present. Ariadne, "unconscious 
of Bacchus, or but idly casting her eyes as upon some un- 
concerning pageant, her soul undistracted from Theseus " 
— Ariadne, " pacing the solitary shore in as much heart- 
silence, and in almost the same local solitude, with which 
she awoke at daybreak to catch the forlorn last glances 
of the sail that bore away the Athenian :" this is the past. 
But it is in the situation itself, not in Titian's treatment 
of it, that Lamb has found the antithesis that so delights 
him. He is in fact the poet, taking the subject out of the 
painter's hands, and treating it afresh. Lamb obtains an 
easy victory for the ancients over the moderns, by choos- 
ing as his foil for Titian and EafEaelle the treatment of sa- 
cred subjects by Martin, the painter of Belshaszar' s Feast 
and The Plains of Heaven. And it is significant of a cer- 
tain inability in Lamb to do full justice to his contempo- 
raries, that in noting the barrenness of the fifty years in 
question in the matter of art, he has no exception to make 
but Hogarth. He might have had a word to say for 
Turner and Wilkie. 

The essay on The Artificial Comedy of the Last Centu- 
ry has received more attention than its importance at all 
warrants, from the circumstance that Macaulay set to work 
seriously to demolish its reasoning, in reviewing Leigh 
Hunt's edition of the Eestoration Dramatists. Lamb's 
essay was originally part of a larger essay upon the old 
actors, in which he was led to speak of the comedies of 

m CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

Congreve and Wycherley, and the reasons why they no 
longer held the stage. His line of defence is well known. 
He protests that the world in which their characters move 
is so wholly artificial — a conventional world, quite apart 
from that of real life — that it is beside the mark to judge 
them by any moral standard. " They are a world of them- 
selves almost as much as fairy-land." The apology is real- 
ly (as Hartley Coleridge acutely points out) for those who, 
like himself, conld enjoy the wit of these writers, without 
finding their actual judgment of moral questions at all in- 
fluenced by it. It must be admitted that Lamb does not 
convince us of the sincerity of his reasoning, and probably 
he did not convince himself. He loved paradox ; and he 
loved, moreover, to find some soul of goodness in things 
evil. As Hartley Coleridge adds, it was his way always 
to take hold of things " by the better handle." 

The same love of paradox is manifest in the essay on 
Shakspeare's Tragedies, " considered with reference to their 
fitness for stage representation." If there are any posi- 
tions which we should not expect to find Lamb disput- 
ing, they are the acting qualities of Shakspeare's plays, 
and the intellectual side of the actor's art. Yet these are 
what he devotes this paper to impugning. He had been 
much disgusted by the fulsome flattery contained in the 
epitaph on Garrick in Westminster Abbey. In this bom- 
bastic effusion, this " farrago of false thoughts and non- 
sense," as Lamb calls it, Garrick is put on a level with 
Shakspeare : 

"And till Eternity with power sublime 
Shall mark the mortal hour of hoary Time, 
Shakspeare and Garrick like twin-stars shall shine, 
And earth irradiate with a beam divine." 


Why is it, asks Lamb, tliat " from the days of the actor 
here celebrated to our own, it should have been the fash- 
ion to compliment every performer in his turn, that has 
had the luck to please the town in any of the great char- 
acters of Shakspearc, with the notion of possessing a mind 
congenial with the poefs: how people should come thus 
unaccountably to confound the power of originating poet- 
ical images and conceptions with the faculty of being able 
to read or recite the same when put into words?" And 
he goes on, in the same strain of contempt, to speali of 
the "low tricks upon the eye and ear," which the player 
can so easily compass, as contrasted with the " absolute 
mastery over the heart and soul of man, which a great 
dramatic poet possesses." No one knew better than Lamb, 
that the resources of the actor's arl are not fairly or ade- 
quately stated in such language as this. He had himself 
the keenest relish for good acting, and no one has de- 
scribed and criticised it more finely. Witness his descrip- 
tion of his favourite Munden, in the part of the Greenwich 
Pensioner, Old Dosey, and of Bensley's conception of the 
character of Malvolio. Or, again, take the exquisite pas- 
sage in which he recalls Mrs. Jordan's performance of Vi- 
ola: "There is no giving an account how she delivered 
the disguised story of her love for Orsino. It was no set 
speech, that she had foreseen, so as to weave it into a har- 
monious period, line necessarily following line to make up 
the music — yet I have heard it so spoken, or rather read, 
not without its grace and beauty ; but when she had de- 
clared her sister's history to be a ' blank,' and that she 
' never told her love,' there was a pause, as if the story 
had ended — and then the image of the 'worm in the 
bud' came up as a new suggestion — and the heightened 
image of ' Patience ' still followed after that, as by some 

174 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

growing (and not mechanical) process, thought springing 
up after thought, I would almost say, as they were wa- 
tered by her tears." We are quite sure that the writer 
of these eloquent words did not seriously regard the art 
of acting as a mere succession of tricks " upon the eye 
and ear." He was for the moment prejudiced against the 
great actor — whom, by the way, he had never seen. Gar- 
rick having left the stage in 1776 — by the injudicious 
language of his flatterers. But if we make due allowance 
for his outburst of spleen, we shall find much that is 
admirably true mixed up with it. Critics have often, for 
instance, insisted upon what is gained by seeing a drama 
acted, as distinguished from reading it, and Lamb here de- 
votes himself to showing how far it is from being all gain. 
" It is difficult for a frequent playgoer to disembarrass the 
idea of Hamlet from the person and voice of Mr. Kemble. 
We speak of Lady Macbeth, while we are in reality think- 
ing of Mrs. Siddons." We get distinctness, says Lamb, 
from seeing a character thus embodied, but " dearly do we 
pay " for this sense of distinctness. 

This line of criticism leads up to the crowning paradox 
of this essay, that the plays of Shakspeare "are less calcu- 
lated for performance on a stage than those of almost any 
other dramatist whatever." Here again it may be said 
that no one knew better than Lamb that in a most im- 
portant sense these words are the very reverse of truth. 
There is no quality in which Shakspeare's greatness as a 
dramatist is more conspicuous than his knowledge of what 
is effective in stage representation. But Lamb chose to 
mean something very different from this. He was think- 
ing of certain other qualities in the poet which are incom- 
municable by the medium of acting, and on these he pro- 
ceeds to dwell, discussing for that. purpose the traditional 


stage rendering of Hamlet and other characters. He points 
out how the stage Hamlet almost always overdoes his scorn 
for Polonius,and his brutality to Ophelia, and asks the rea- 
son of this. It does not seem to occur to him that this is 
simply bad acting, and that it is not at all a necessary in- 
cident of the art that Hamlet's feelings should be thus 
represented. He seems to be confounding the limita- 
tions of the particular actor with those of his art. In- 
deed, it is clear that many of the positions maintained in 
this paper are simply convenient opportunities for en- 
larging upon some character or conception of the great 

Lamb had a juster complaint against Garrict than that 
supplied by the words of a foolish epitaph. He boldly 
expresses a doubt whether the actor was capable of any 
real admiration for Shatspeare. Would any true lover of 
of his plays, he asks, have " admitted into his matchless 
scenes such ribald trash " as Tate and Gibber and the rest 
had foisted into the acting versions of the dramas ? Much 
of the scorn and indignation expressed by Lamb in this 
paper becomes intelligible when we recall in what garbled 
shapes the dramatist was presented. Garrick himself had 
taken a prominent share in these alterations of the text. 
It was he who completely changed the last act of Hamlet, 
and turned the Winter's Tale into a piece of Arcadian in- 
sipidity. But the greatest outrage of all, in Lamb's view, 
would be Tate's version of Lear — in a modified edition of 
which Garrick himself had performed. In this version — 
which the editor of Bell's acting edition (1774) calls a 
"judicious blending" of Shakspeare and Tate — the char- 
acter of the Fool is altogether omitted ; Cordelia survives, 
and marries Edgar ; and Lear, Kent, and Gloster announce 
their intention of retiring into private life, to watch the 

176 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

happiness of the young couple, Lear himself bringing 
down the curtain with these amazing lines : 

" Thou, Kent, and I, retired from noise and strife, 
Will calmly pass our short reserves of time 
In cool reflections on our fortunes past. 
Cheered with relation of the prosperous reign 
Of this celestial pair ; thus our remains 
Shall in an even course of thoughts be past, 
Enjoy the present hour, nor fear the last." 

This was the stuff which in Lamb's day the actors and 
their audience were content to accept as the work of the 
Master-hand. It may well account for a tone of bitter- 
ness, and even of exaggeration, that pervades the essay. It 
is some compensation that it drew from Lamb his noble 
vindication of Shakspeare's original. Tiie passage is well 
known, but I cannot deny myself the pleasure of quoting 
it once again : 

" The Lear of Shakspeare cannot be acted. The contemptible ma- 
chinery by which they mimic the storm which he goes out in, is not 
more inadequate to represent the horrors of the real elements, than 
any actor can be to represent Lear ; they might more easily propose 
to personate the Satan of Milton upon a stage, or one of Michael An- 
gelo's terrible 6gures. The greatness of Lear is not in corporal di- 
mension, but in intellectual ; the explosions of his passion are terri- 
ble as a volcano ; they are storms turning up and disclosing to the 
bottom that sea, his mind, with all its vast riches. It is his mind 
which is laid bare. This case of flesh and blood seems too insignifi- 
cant to be thought on : even as he himself neglects it. On the stage 
we see nothing but corporal infirmities and weakness, the impotence 
of rage : while we read it, we see not Lear, but we are Lear, we are 
in his mind, we are sustained by a grandeur which baffles the malice 
of daughters and storms ; in the aberrations of his reason we discov- 
er a mighty irregular power of reasoning, immethodized from the or- 
dinary purposes of life, but exerting its powers, as the wind blows 


where it listeth, at will upon the corruptions and abuses of mankind. 
What have looks or tones to do with that sublime identification of 
his age with that of the heavens themselves, when, in his reproaches to 
them for conniving at the injustice of his children, he reminds them 
that ' they themselves are old ?' What gestures shall we appropri- 
ate to this ? What has the voice or the eye to do with such things ? 
But the play is beyond all art, as the tamperings with it show : it is 
too hard and stony ; it must have love-scenes, and a happy ending. 
It is not enough that Cordelia is a daughter ; she must shine as a 
lover too. Tate has put his hook in the nostrils of this Leviathan, 
for Garrick and his followers, the showmen of the scene, to draw the 
mighty beast about more easily. A happy ending ! — as if the living 
martyrdom that Lear had gone through, the flaying of his feelings 
alive, did not make u fair dismissal from the stage of life the only 
decorous thing for him. If he is to live and be happy after, if he 
could sustain this world's burden after, why all this pudder and prep- 
aration — why torment us with all this unnecessary sympathy ? as if 
the childish pleasure of getting his gilt robes and sceptre again could 
tempt him to act over again his misused station — as if, at his years, 
and with his experience, anything was left but to die." 

No passage in Lamb's writings is better fitted than this 
to illustrate his peculiar power as a commentator. It as 
little suggests Hazlitt or Coleridge, as it does Schlegel or 
Gervinus. It is more remote still — it need hardly be 
added — from the fantastic tricks of a later day, which are 
doing all they can to make Shakspearian criticism hide- 
ous. Lamb's emphatic vindication of the course of events 
in Sbakspeare's tragedy of course implies a ciiticism and 
a commendation of the dramatist. But no one feels that 
he is either patronizing or judging Shakspeare. He 
takes Lear, as it were, out of the hands of literature, and 
regards him as a human being placed in the world where 
all men have to sufEer and be tempted. We forget that 
he is a character in a play, or even in history. Lamb's 
criticism is a commentary on life, and no truer homage 

lis CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

could be paid to the dramatist than that he should be al- 
lowed for the time to pass out of our thoughts. 

Thoroughly characteristic of Lamb is the admirable 
paper on The Sanity of True Genius, suggested by Dry- 
den's famous line as to " great wit" being nearly allied to 
madness. It aims to disprove this, and to show that, on 
the contrary, the greatest wits " will ever be found to be 
the sanest writers." He illustrates this by the use that 
Shakspeare and others make of the supernatural persons 
and situations in their writings. " Caliban, the Witches, 
are as true to the laws of their own nature (ours with a 
difEerence) as Othello, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Herein the 
great and the little wits are differenced : that if the latter 
wander ever so little from nature or actual existence, they 
lose themselves and their readers." And with a marvel- 
lous semblance of paradox, which yet is felt to be pro- 
foundly true, he proceeds to declare that in Spenser's 
episode of the "Cave of Mammon," where the Money- 
God, and his daughter Ambition, and Pilate washing his 
bands — the most discordant persons and situations — are 
introduced, the controlling power of the poet's sanity 
makes the whole more actually consistent than the char- 
acters and situations of every-day life in the latest novel 
from the Minerva Press. It is a proof, he says, " of that 
hidden sanity which still guides the poet in his wildest 
seeming aberrations." No detached sentences can, how- 
ever, convey an idea of this splendid argument. Nothing 
that Lamb has written proves more decisively how large a 
part the higher imagination plays in true criticism ; noth- 
ing better illustrates the truth of Butler's claim, that 

" The poet must be tried by his peers, 
And not b; pedauts and philosophers." 


That Lamb was a poet is at the root of his greatness 
as a critic ; and his own judgments of poetry show the 
same sanity to which he points in his poetical brethren. 
He is never so impulsive or discursive that he fails to 
show how unerring is his judgment on all points connect- 
ed with the poet's art. There had been those before 
Lamb, for example, who had quoted and called attention to 
the poetry of George Wither ; but no one had thought of 
noticing that his metre was also that of Ambrose Philips, 
and that Pope and his friends had only proved their own 
defective ear by seeting to make it ridiculous. " To the 
measure in which these lines are written, the wits of 
Queen Anne's days contemptuously gave the name of 
Namby-Pamby, in ridicule of Ambrose Philips, who has 
used it in some instances, as in the lines on Cuzzoni, to 
my feeling at least very deliciously ; but Wither, whose 
darling measure it seems to have been, may show that in 
skilful hands it is capable of expressing the subtlest move- 
ment of passion. So true it is, what Drayton seems to 
have felt, that it is the poet who modifies the metre, not 
the metre the poet." 

It was in -the margin of a copy of Wither's poems 
that this exquisite comment was originally made ; and in 
such a casual way did much of Lamb's finest criticism 
come into being. All through his life, in letter and essay, 
he was making remarks of this kind, throwing them out 
by the way, never thinking that they would be hereafter 
treasured up as the most luminous and penetrative judg- 
ments of the century. And it may well be asked why, 
with such a range of sympathy, from Marlowe to Ambrose 
Philips, from Sir T. Browne to Sir William Temple, he 
was so limited, so one-sided in his estimate of the litera- 
ture of his own age 2 It is true that he was among the 

180 CHAELES LAMB. [chap. 

first in England to appreciate Burns and Wordsworth. 
But to Scott, Byron, and Shelley he entertained a feeling 
almost of aversion. He was glad (as we gather from the 
essay on The Sanity of True Genius) that "a happier 
genius" had arisen to expel the "innutritions phantoms" 
of the Minerva Press; bttt^the success of the Waverley 
Novels seems to have caused him atriusement rather than 
any other feeling. About Byron he wrote to Joseph 
Cottle: "I have a thoroflgh aversion to his character, and 
a very moderate admiration of his getiius: he is great in 
so little a way. To be a poet is to be the man, not a 
petty portion of occasional low passion worked up in a 
permanent form of humanity." Shelley's poetry, he told 
Barton, he did not understand, and that it was " thin sown 
with profit or delight." When he read Goethe's Faust 
(of course in an English version), he at once pronounced 
it inferior to Marlowe's ia the chief motive of the plot, and 
was evidently content to let criticism end there. Some- 
thing of this may be ascribed to a jealousy in Lamb^ — ^a 
strange and needless jealousy for his own loved writers of 
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and a fear lest the 
new comers should usurp some of the praise and renown 
that he claimed for them ; something, also, to a perverse- 
ness in him which made him like to be in opposition to 
the current opinion, whatever it might be. He Was often 
unwilling, rather than unable, to discuss the claims of a 
liew candidate for public favour. He lived mainly in com- 
munion with an older literature. It was to him inexhaust- 
ible in amount and in excellence, and he was impatient of_ 
what sought to divert his attention from it. It was liter- 
ally true of him that " when a new book came out — he 
read an old one." 

But even of the old ones, the classics of our literature. 


it was not easy to say what his opinion in any case would 
be. For instance, he was a great admirer of Smollett, and 
was with great difficulty brought to admit the superiority 
of Fielding. And ia the work of a greater humourist than 
Smollett, in the Picaresque school — Gil Bias — he would 
not acknowledge any merit at all. The truth is that for 
Lamb to enjoy a work of humour, it must embody a strong 
human interest, or at least have a pulse of humanity throb- 
bing through it. Humour, without pity or tenderness, 
only repelled him. It was another phase of the same 
quality in him that — as we have seen in his estimate of 
Byron — where he was not drawn to the man, he was almost 
disabled from admiring, or even understanding, the man's 
work. Had he ever come face to face with the author 
for a single evening, the result might have been quite dif- 
ferent, i. 
There is no difficulty, therefore, in detecting the limita- 
tions of Lamb as a critic. In a most remarkable degree 
he had the defects of his qualities. Where his heart was, 
there his judgment was sound. Where he actively dis- 
liked, or was passively indijEEerent, his critical powers re- 
mained dormant. He was too fond of paradox, too much 
at the mercy of his emotions or the mood of the hour, to 
be a safe guide always. But where no disturbing forces 
interfered, he exercised a faculty almost unique in the 
history of criticism. When Southey heard of bis Specir 
mens of the English Dramatic Poets, he wrote to Cole- 
ridge : " If co-operative labour were as practicable as it 
is desirable, what a history of English literature might 
he and you and I set forth 1" Such an enterprise would 
be, as Southey saw, all but impossible ; but if the spirit- 
ual insight of Coleridge, and the unwearied industry and 
sober common-sense of Southey, could be combined with 

182 CHAKLES LAMB. [chap. ix. 

the special genius of Charles Lamb, something lite the 
ideal commentary on English literature might be the re- 

As it is, Lamb's contribution to that end is of the rarest 
value. If it is too much to say that he singly revived the 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it is because we see 
clearly that that revival wasjooming, and would have come 
even without his help. But he did more than recall at- 
tention to certain forgotten writers. He flashed a light 
from himself upon them, not only heightening every charm 
and deepening every truth, but mating even their eccen- 
tricities beautiful and lovable. And in doing this he has 
linted his name for ever with theirs. When we thint 
of "the sweetest names, and which carry a perfume in 
the mention — ^Kit Marlowe, Drayton, Drummond of Haw- 
thornden, and Cowley" — then the thought of Charles 
Lamb will never be far ofE. His name, too, has a per- 
fume in the mention. " There are some reputations," 
wrote Southey to Caroline Bowles, " which will not teep, 
but Lamb's is not of that tind. His memory will retain 
its fragrance as long as the best spice that ever was ex- 
pended upon one of the Pharaohs." 




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